The Prevalence of Gambling and What Increase It

These latter findings are an indication that environmental factors are significant. One of the most obvious of these is the availability of gambling opportunities. Whatever the ultimate cause of problem or pathological gambling, it is reasonable to assume that its manifestation depends, to some undetermined degree, on ease of access to gambling, legal, or otherwise. And the limited available evidence appears to support this assumption:
· NORC examined the nearby presence of gambling facilities as a contributing factor in the incidence of problem and pathological gambling in the general population. In examining combined data from its telephone and patron surveys, NORC found that the presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers. However, this finding was not replicated in NORC’s phone survey data alone.
· Seven of the nine communities that NORC investigated reported that the number of problem and pathological gamblers increased after the introduction of nearby casino gambling. 5
· NRC’s review of multiple prevalence surveys over time concluded that “[ S] ome of the greatest increases in the number of problem and pathological gamblers shown in these repeated surveys came over periods of expanded gambling opportunities in the states studied.”

An examination of a number of surveys by Dr. Rachel Volberg concluded that states that introduced gambling had higher rates of problem and pathological gambling. 6 The relationship between expanded gambling opportunities and increased gambling behaviors was highlighted in the personal testimony received by the Commission. Ed Looney, executive director of the New Jersey Council on Compulsive Gambling, testified that the national helpline operated by his organization received significant increases in calls from locations where gambling had been expanded. 7

A more contentious subject than the actual source of problem or pathological gambling is estimating the percentage of the population suffering from pathological or problem gambling, however it is defined. Different studies have produced a wide range of estimates.

One reason for the variation in estimates centers on the timeline used. For example, studies using the DSM-IV may make a distinction between those gamblers who meet the criteria for pathological or problem gambling at sometime during their life (” lifetime”) and those who meet the criteria only during the past 12 months (” past year”). Each approach has its defenders and critics. For the purpose of measuring prevalence in the general population, lifetime estimates run the risk of overestimating problem and pathological gambling because these estimates will include people who may recently have gone into recovery and no longer manifest any symptoms. On the other hand, past year measures may understate the problem because this number will not include people who continue to manifest pathological gambling behaviors, but who may not have engaged in such behavior within the past year.

Prior to the research undertaken by this Commission, the data on prevalence was scattered at best. Nevertheless, virtually all estimates indicate a serious national problem. For example, Dr. Shaffer’s review of the existing literature on the subject concluded that approximately 1.6 percent of the adult population (3.2 million people) are lifetime “Level 3” gamblers (comparable to the DSM-IV’s “pathological” gamblers). Another 3.85 percent (7.7 million) are lifetime “Level 2” gamblers (those with problems below the pathological level). 8

5 NORC 6 Rachel A. Volberg, “Prevalence Studies of Problem Gambling in the United States,” Journal of Gambling Studies, at 123 (Summer 1996). 7 Testimony of Edward Looney before the NGISC, January 22, 1998.