How does Gambling Influence Marriage and Divorce

University of California-Irvine Social Ecology professors Richard McCleary and Kenneth Chew, using different methodologies than Phillips, concluded that suicide rates in Las Vegas are comparable to other Western cities. They account for the high rates by analyzing the rapid growth of many Western cities, which results in a large population without established roots to a community. They concluded, “In strong contrast to the Phillips study, our investigation shows that… suicide levels in U. S. Casino resort areas are about average compared to non-gaming areas.” 125 While these studies may account for the different rates, they both conclude that Las Vegas has the highest resident suicide rate in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study of suicide and nowhere in this study was gambling mentioned as a cause. What the study did reveal was that:

A spectrum of social and environmental factors have been associated with suicidal behavior. For example, levels of residential instability, unemployment, and other indicators of limited economic opportunity may be higher in communities with higher suicide. Similarly, suicide rates are higher in communities with low levels of social integration and unstable social environments. 126

Other observers have noted the fact that Nevada regularly reports the highest rate of suicide among all 50 states. For 1995, that rate was more than twice the national average. 127 Testimony before the Commission indicated that, for numerous reasons, the magnitude of the link between gambling and suicide may be understated. For instance, Commissioners heard that gambling-related suicides and suicide attempts often are not reported as suicides, 128 not tied to gambling, or disguised so as not to look like a suicide.

The Commission likewise heard abundant testimony and evidence that compulsive gambling introduces a greatly heightened level of stress and tension into marriages and families, often culminating in divorce and other manifestations of familial disharmony. In Las Vegas, Michelle “Mitzi” Schlichter testified how she eventually ended her marriage to former NFL quarterback Art Schlichter after his second incarceration for gambling-related activities. 129 In Biloxi, Mississippi, a school teacher testified how her 30-year marriage to a prominent Gulf Coast attorney crumbled after the husband developed an obsession with casino gambling. 130 In Tempe, Arizona, Gwen Bjornson testified before the Commission how her 5-and 7-year-old sons’ “lives are forever changed because I was compelled to divorce their father, a compulsive gambler. Divorce is one of the most painful things that we, as adults, sometimes must face. Yet, without divorce, I am very much in doubt that I would have skirted a complete mental breakdown.”

In NORC’s survey, 53.5 percent of identified pathological gamblers reported having been divorced, versus 18.2 percent of non-gamblers and 29.8 percent of low-risk gamblers. Further, NORC respondents representing two million adults identified a spouse’s gambling as a significant factor in a prior divorce. 131

125 Rob Bhatt, Industry Engages Suicide Debate, Las Vegas Business Press, at 1 (October 12, 1998) 126 Christian Marfels, Ph. D., Visitor Suicides and Problem Gambling in the Las Vegas Market: A Phenomenon in Search of Evidence, Gaming Law Review, Vol. 2, No. 5 (1998), p. 472. 127 U. S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998 [118th Edition], Washington, D. C. at 105 (1998). 128 Testimony of Chris Anderson before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Chicago, Illinois (May 20, 1998). (Executive Director, Illinois Council on Compulsive Gambling). 129 Testimony Before the National Gambling Study Commission, Las Vegas, Nevada (November 8, 1998). 130 Testimony of Robin, Before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Biloxi, Mississippi (September 10, 1998). (witness) 131 NORC, at 48,49.