Main Achievements of The National Gambling Impact Study Commission

In 1996 Congress created the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) and directed it to conduct a thorough study of the attitudes, events, and trends shaping the social and economic impacts of legal gambling in America. It quickly became apparent to the Commission that very little objective research existed on the current state of gambling in our nation. The Commission decided to commit nearly half of its $5 million budget to a research agenda that would help policymakers and the public better understand the dramatic growth of the gambling industry over the last two decades.

The primary research program of the NGISC is embodied in the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council and the University of Chicago affiliate, the National Opinion Research Center reports on gambling behavior, problem and pathological gambling, and related issues such as the availability and efficacy of treatment for gambling disorders. Useful data on state lotteries was developed by Philip Cook and Charles Clotfelter of Duke University. Other valuable information was obtained in answers from all 37 state lottery regulators and about 150 casino operators. Much helpful testimony on economic and social outcomes was given at our six regional site hearings, frequently describing research conducted in individual states that was of peer review quality. The data and analyses the Commission’s research generated has added to the meager knowledge base on legal gambling.

Yet what is very clear is that there is still a dearth of impartial, objective research that the public and policymakers at federal, tribal, state, and corporate levels need to shape public policies on the impacts of legal gambling.

The gambling industry continues to undergo dynamic change. Many of our private sector gambling corporations have become international, national, or regional in their marketing strategy, customer base and in other essential respects. These private sector operations plus state-run lotteries are generating more than $50 billion in revenue this year. The parameters that used to define different forms of gambling are blurring. Betting from home is becoming more common. Betting over the Internet may soon become universal. Understanding the ever-evolving economic forms of legal gambling is important.

There are undeniably many millions of problem and pathological gamblers causing severe harm to themselves, their families and many others. Understanding the reasons that gambling disorders are multiplying is crucial to the health and stability of these families, their communities and many businesses.

Without a clearer understanding of the issues involved in this complex subject, all of us are less able to make sound judgements about future impacts of the gambling industry. Consider, for example, that more than $88 million in the aggregate was spent on a 1998 referendum in California that would liberally expand Native American tribal casinos in that state. With no objective body of knowledge available, 30- second television spots defined the campaign dialogue. The public, Congress, and tribal and state leaders, need access to impartial data on which informed judgments can be based.

In past years, Congress initiated research on other disorders in effective and visionary ways. The nation knows far more about drug and alcohol abuse because Congress strongly supported research, undertaken primarily by national institutes that provided indispensable data.

Where it makes sense, those models should now be followed to understand the benefits and costs of legal gambling, including the causes and effects of gambling disorders.

As you will read in several of the recom-mendations below, the Commission is proposing that gambling components, where appropriate, be added to existing federal research in the substance abuse and other mental health fields. Adopting that strategy will, at less cost, greatly accelerate the collection and analyses of data needed to design sensible solutions.