How Pathological and Problem Gambling Influences The US Society

Others who are impacted by problem and pathological gambling include relatives and friends, who are often the source of money for the gambler. Employers may experience losses in the form of lowered productivity and time missed from work. Problem and pathological gamblers often engage in a variety of crimes, such as embezzlement, or simply default on their financial obligations. During our site visits, the Commission heard testimony from social service providers that churches, charities, domestic violence shelters, and homeless shelters are often significantly burdened by the problems created by problem and pathological gamblers.

Some costs can be assigned a dollar figure. The Commission heard repeated testimony from compulsive gamblers who reported losing tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to gambling. Problem and pathological gamblers appear to spend a disproportionate amount of money on gambling compared to non-problem gamblers. 36 According to NRC, these individuals report spending 4½ times as much on gambling each month as do non-problem gamblers. 37

The Costs to Society
In addition to the costs of problem and pathological gambling borne by the individual and his or her family, there are broader costs to society. NORC estimated that the annual average costs of job loss, unemployment benefits, welfare benefits, poor physical and mental health, and problem or pathological gambling treatment is approximately $1,200 per pathological gambler per year and approximately $715 per problem gambler per year. 38 NORC further estimated that lifetime costs (bankruptcy, arrests, imprisonment, legal fees for divorce, and so forth) at $10,550 per pathological gambler, and $5,130 per problem gambler. With these figures, NORC calculated that the aggregate annual costs of problem and pathological gambling caused by the factors cited above were approximately $5 billion per year, in addition to $40 billion in estimated lifetime costs. 39
NORC admittedly “focuse[ d] on a small number of tangible consequences” 40 and did not attempt to estimate the financial costs of any gambling-related incidences of theft, embezzlement, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and the non-legal costs of divorce. 41 As a result, its figures must be taken as minimums. According to NORC: “The current economic impact of problem and pathological gambling, in terms of population or cost per prevalent case, appears smaller than the impacts of such lethal competitors as alcohol abuse (estimated annual cost of $166 billion 42 ) and heart disease (estimated annual cost of $125 billion 43 ). However, the costs that are measured through health-based estimates do not capture all of the consequences important to the person, family, or society. The burden of family breakdown, for example, is outside of these measures.” 44

According to therapists and other professionals in the field, pathological gambling is a difficult disorder to treat. As with substance abuse, treatment for pathological gambling is a costly, time-consuming effort, often without quick results and with a high degree of re-occurrence. Given the lack of information about the root causes of the disorder and the relatively new awareness of the phenomenon, at least on a large scale, no single treatment approach has been devised. Instead, a variety of different approaches are employed, with mixed results.

36 Henry R. Lesieur, “Costs and Treatment of Pathological Gambling,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, March 1998, p. 164. 37 NRC, p. 3-7. NRC notes that reporting of gambling expenditures in general is of “dubious accuracy.” 38 NORC, p. 52. 39 NORC, p. 53. 40 NORC, p. 41. 41 NORC, p. 52. 42 NORC, p. 54. 43 NORC, p. 54. 44 NORC, p. 53.