Suicide among Problem Gamblers

These efforts are a start, but far more that posting warning signs and training some employees needs to be done. Adolescent gambling is one issue on which there is considerable common ground among the industry, parents, anti-gambling advocates, clergy, and city officials. The prevalence of adolescent gambling is a serious problem which demands a broad coalition of efforts. The Commission has heard testimony from some who argue that the casino industry should shoulder the burden for funding prevention programs targeting underage gambling. The Commission believes that the responsibility rests with all sectors of the industry, including tribal and state governments.

For those with destructive and dependent behavioral problems, an additional concern is suicide. Commissioners heard repeated testimony about suicide and attempted suicide on the part of compulsive gamblers. In Atlantic City, the Commission heard about a 16-year-old boy who attempted suicide after losing $6,000 on lottery tickets. 120 In Chicago, Commissioners heard about a middle-aged couple in Joliet, Illinois, who both committed suicide after the wife accumulated $200,000 in casino debt. 121 When evaluating the economic benefits of a proposed new facility, policymakers should also give serious consideration to consequences such as these.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, approximately one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide. The Council further notes that the suicide rate among pathological gamblers is higher than for any other addictive disorder. 122

A survey of nearly 400 Gamblers Anonymous members revealed that two-thirds had contemplated suicide, 47 percent had a definite plan to kill themselves, and 77 percent stated that they have wanted to die. 123

University of California-San Diego sociologist Dr. David Phillips found that “visitors to and residents of gaming communities experience significantly elevated suicide levels.” According to Phillips, Las Vegas “displays the highest levels of suicide in the nation, both for residents of Las Vegas and for visitors to that setting.” In Atlantic City, Phillips found that “abnormally high suicide levels for visitors and residents appeared only after gambling casinos were opened.” Visitor suicides account for 4.28 percent of all visitor deaths in Las Vegas, 2.31 percent of visitor deaths in Reno, and 1.87 percent of visitor deaths in Atlantic City. Nationally, suicides account for an average of .97 percent of visitor deaths. 124

A study commissioned by the American Gaming Association to counter Phillips’ findings explains the suicide rates in Las Vegas not as a result of gambling but rather as a result of the city’s geographic and demographic characteristics.

118 See American Gaming Association, Responsible Gaming Resource Guide, Second Edition at 3-11 to 3-19, x-1 to x-5. 119 ABC News 20/ 20, Where Are Their Parents?: Children Roam Casinos While Parents Gamble (air date September 12, 1997). 120 Testimony of Edward Looney, Executive Director, Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Atlantic City, New Jersey (January 22, 1998). 121 Testimony of Joe Clark, Before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Chicago, Illinois (May 20, 1998) (Executive Director, Illinois Family Institute) 122 National Council on Problem Gambling, Problem and Pathological Gambling in America: The National Picture, at 14-15 (January 1997). 123 Edward Looney 124 Elevated Suicide levels Associated with Legalized Gambling, 27 Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, at 373-378 (December 1997).