This is the first of a two-part series on the subject. This first part of our analysis addresses the prevalence of these vices. The second part will discuss in greater detail the financial risks and rewards these states are exposed to as a result of vice.
The results of our analysis show which states are at greatest risk for costs associated with vice and which states are likely to benefit from them. For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that accidents caused by drunk driving cost the American public $50 billion a year. This only begins to capture the size of the expenses that stem from drinking. In order to pay for these realized costs, however, states collect money on the sale of beer, wine, and distilled spirits.The distilled spirits tax is as much as $12.80 per gallon.
There is a similar relationship in the case of tobacco. Smoking causes cancer and heart disease, but taxes on cigarettes are a relatively large part of the receipts base of most states. Gambling is taxed in most venues other than those owned by Native American tribes. Nevada would not have much of a state budget if this were not true.
Data used for the 24/7 Wall St analysis came from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Gaming Association, and a Harvard Business School professor’s analysis of pornography use.
Some of the definitions in this analysis are technical, and may be confusing for those unfamiliar with them. For instance, whether a citizen is defined as a heavy drinker depends on their gender. In the case of men, it is those who report an average consumption of more than two drinks each day. In the case of women, the minimum is an average of more than one. These numbers are probably understated, as many do not like to admit to being problem drinkers. Binge drinkers are either men who on at least two nights in the last 30 day have consumed five of more drinks, or women who have consumed at least four. Compared to heavy drinking, binge drinking is much more common, done by as many as 15% of the adults in some states. Regarding gambling, this analysis does not take into account lottery collections at the state level or other forms of gambling such as off track betting.
24/7 Wall St. took the prevalence of five major vices in the fifty states. These were then averaged and weighted evenly in order select the states with the highest and lowest prevalence of vice.
The Ten Most Virtuous
While it does not break the top ten in any single statistic, Kansas scored in the best 20 regarding nearly every vice considered for our ranking. The state beat out 36 others in drug abstinence, with less than 3% of the adult population using an illicit drug other than marijuana each year. Kansas’ best marks came in alcohol consumption, with only a 3.2% rate of heavy drinking among adults, the 11th best score in the country. The state has been historically and remains one of the most alcohol-unfriendly states in the country. In 1948, 15 years after the 19th amendment was overturned, Kansas became the last state to repeal statewide Prohibition. Today, nearly 1 in 5 counties in Kansas are “dry counties,” meaning they sell no liquor, and only beer that is 3.2% alcohol or less.
Click the Image for a Larger Graph of Heavy Drinkers by State
Wyoming is average when it comes to alcohol consumption and ranks as one of the top ten in tobacco consumption. However, state residents use the most smokeless tobacco per capita each year. In the state, more than 76 packs are sold per capita each year, the 11th highest rate in the country. The Cowboy State makes up for these shortfalls by having some of the best scores in drug usage, pornography and gambling. Wyoming has only four casinos, the ninth fewest number of pornography subscribers per 1,000 broadband users, and has the sixth-lowest rate of hard drug use per month (2.78% of adults).
Like Kansas, Texas does not perform exceptionally poorly in any category. The Lone Star state has the fourth-lowest rate of illicit drug use per month, at just under 6%. The state also ranks fourth-best for marijuana use, with only 7.3% of adults reporting use in a single year. Considering its size and population, it is impressive that there is only one major casino in the state. Texas’ neighbor, Oklahoma, has 106.
Ohio scores average or below average in several categories, including alcohol consumption, where it ranks 25th, and tobacco usage, where it ranks 36th. The Buckeye State makes up for these shortcomings by scoring among the top 20 in drug use and has one of the best scores in gambling, as most forms of it are banned in the state. The state ranks fourth-lowest in pornography with only 2.2 subscribers per 1000 broadband users.
Maryland only has one serious offense on the vice list – a higher than average rate of pornography subscribers. Otherwise, the state is fairly virtuous. Maryland is has the 20th-lowest rate of drug use and, according to the National Gaming Association, has no major casinos or gambling venues. The state also has one of the lowest rates of binge drinking among adults, with a rate of 12.6% in 2009. The Old Line State also has the seventh-best rank in tobacco usage – only 15% of its population are regular smokers.
Click the Image for a Larger Graph of Cigarette Smokers by State
Georgia is one of the many southern states whose residents are not heavy drinkers. The state has the fifth-best rank in binge drinking, with 10.5% of adults reporting excessive drinking in 2009. According to the American Gaming Association’s 2010 report, the state had no major gambling venues. The Peach State also ranked the twelfth-best in non-marijuana drug use, with an annual rate of just under 3% among adults.
Tennessee has a high rate of tobacco and illegal drug use, particularly when compared to other states that have relatively few vices. 22% of Tennessee adults are regular smokers. The Volunteer State’s substance abuse clearly does not extend to drinking; Tennessee has the best marks overall in alcohol consumption, despite being home to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery – only 6.8% of adults report regular binge drinking and only 1.2% report heavy drinking over the course of a year.
Idaho scores in the best 20 in every major category of vice. The state ranks sixteenth-best in alcohol consumption, and it only has seven casinos. The state is has the twelfth-fewest smokers per capita — only 16% of adults. The state rates about average with regards to drug use, however there are many programs in place to fight it, including the expansive “Idaho Meth Project.” Idaho has the second-lowest rate of pornography subscriptions among people with broadband.
New Jersey may surprise some by being so free of vice. The state is not in first place on this list because of its gambling problems, ranking 33rd highest in this category with 11 casinos. Besides gambling and drinking, where it ranks in the dead center of all states, the Garden State is in the top ten in every category. New Jersey ranks seventh-best in tobacco consumption, sixth-best in pornography, and fifth-best in drug usage. While this is not technically a vice, and is not included in our ranking, the state should also be recognized for having the lowest combined rate of driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances in the country.
Click the Image for a Larger Graph of Illicit Drug Use by State
Utah’s rank as the most virtuous state in the union will not surprise most. In fact, it ranks in the best ten in every category but one. The state’s one dark side is pornography. 5.49 out of every 1000 broadband users subscribe to pornography – easily the highest rate. Otherwise, however, the Beehive State is a model of perfection, with the third-lowest rates of alcohol consumption and drug use and the lowest rate of tobacco consumption in the nation. Gambling is illegal in the state. The average Utah adult buys less than 28 packs of cigarettes a year, compared to a national rate of more than 60, and less than 1 in 10 adults smoke, compared to Kentucky’s 1 in 4. One major factor which may shape the state’s rank is that most of its residents belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and therefore abstain from using alcohol or tobacco.
The Ten Most Vice-Ridden
California’s greatest vice is gambling. It ranks 3rd worst. The state has 68 casinos, all of which are Native American-affiliated. The state also ranks 40th for heavy drinking among adults, with 5.5% of those 18 and older imbibing. California drops to 28th, however, when it comes to binge drinking. Drug use is another, although less severe, issue for the state, ranking 39th. California currently has some of the most lenient state laws in the country with regards to marijuana. On the bright side, The Golden State ranks 2nd best in terms of smoking. Only 12.9% of the adult population smokes cigarettes.
Delaware’s downfall is its abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. The First State has the sixth highest rate of drug usage, with poor scores both in marijuana and hard drugs. This could be partly attributed to its proximity to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, D.C., all major drug distribution centers. The average Delaware adult also buys more than 122 packs of cigarettes each year, the second worst rate in the country. Finally, the state has the fourth worst score for combined heavy drinking and binge drinking. Delaware has one of the lowest rates of pornography subscribers in the country, behind only six others.
Click the Image for a Larger Graph of Binge Drinkers by State
While Missouri ranks near the national average for most vices, it has its weaknesses. The most notable of these is smoking – the state ranks 3rd worst in this category. Among Missouri’s adult population, 23.1% smoke cigarettes. The average number of packs an adult in Missouri buys per year is 97.2. As of August 2010, the state had the lowest tax on cigarettes in the country. Missouri also ranks 36th highest for binge drinking – 17.2% of adults drink too much.
Minnesota ranks average in drug use and has few smokers. The state’s many casinos hurt its score, however, and it has one of the worst rates of binge drinking, ahead of only neighbors Wisconsin and North Dakota. While not part of our rankings, the North Star State had the third worst rate of driving under the influence.
Louisiana has a very high rate of in-state gambling and ranks 3rd worst in that category. The state has a high number of casinos and 2,272 electronic gaming devices, less than only Oregon. Louisiana also ranks 42nd highest for pornography, with an average of just over three subscribers per 1,000 broadband users. Louisianans do the 7th most smoking in the country, with 22.1% of adults smoking cigarettes. The average adult in the state purchases 82.6 packs of cigarettes per year.
Colorado has a below-average rate of tobacco consumption, scoring 14th best overall for the category. Only 17% of the state’s adults are smokers. Colorado, however, does not do as well with regards to drugs and alcohol. Nearly 6% of adults in the state engage in heavy drinking, the tenth-highest rate in the country. The state’s overall drug scores are the worst among our ten worst states. With a rate of marijuana consumption at more than 13% and the rate of usage of other illegal substances at nearly 5%, the state scores third-worst overall.
Oklahoma has the third highest rate of adult smokers in the country (25.5%). It also has the 3rd highest rate with regards to illicit drug use other than marijuana with a rate of 4.75%. Oklahoma has the 5th greatest rate of people subscribing to online pornography. It has the 2nd highest rate for overall gambling, and has the second most casinos in the country – 106. To the state’s credit, it has the 7th lowest rank with regards to heavy drinking. Only 2.8% of adults are heavy drinkers.
Click the Image for a Larger Graph of Marijuana Use by State
Alaska has only three major casinos, which is low compared to most and improves its rating. Otherwise, the state is one of the most vice-rich in the country. Alaska has the fifth-highest rate of drug use in the country, with the third highest rate of marijuana consumption – nearly 15% of adults reported using in a single year. The state also has the third-highest rate of alcohol consumption and the second-highest rate of pornography users per capita.
Wisconsin, home to Milwaukee, or “Brew City,” is big on drinking. It ranks the highest for drinking, meaning the people there on average drink the most. The state has the highest rate of binge drinking in the country. Although it did not affect the state’s ranking, Wisconsin has the highest rate of people driving under the influence of alcohol in the country. (Some blame these statistics on the fact that it is legal for someone under 21 to drink in a bar as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.) It also ranks 14th highest for illicit drug use.
Due mostly to the fact that it is home to America’s original city of sin, Las Vegas, Nevada easily earns its status as the country’s most vice-ridden state. Some may point to unruly outsiders being the source of the state’s sin rather than residents, but that is not the case. The state is ranked in the worst ten both for alcohol consumption and drug use among its population. It is Nevada’s enormous gambling industry, however, which solidifies its position. According to the American Gaming Association’s 2010 report, Nevada has 263 major casinos, easily more than twice that of the next highest state, Oklahoma, which has 106. Gamblers spend more than $10 billion each year in the state, and roughly 75% of the state’s GDP comes from the Las Vegas area.
-Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale, Douglas A. McIntyre