Incidence of Problem and Pathological Gambling in The National Population

A number of state-based and regional studies also have been conducted, with mixed results. A 1997 survey in Oregon indicated that the lifetime prevalence of problem and pathological gambling in that state was 4.9 percent. 9 Recent studies in Mississippi and Louisiana indicated that 7 percent of adults in those states could be classified as “lifetime” problem or pathological gamblers, with approximately 5 percent meeting “past year” criteria. 10 The problems inherent in measuring this disorder are indicated in a study of surveys carried out in 17 states, which reported results ranging from 1.7 to 7.3 percent. 11

The Commission’s Research Findings The goal of the Commission’s research was to provide reliable, solid numbers on the incidence of problem and pathological gambling in the national population and to better define the behavioral and demographic characteristics of gamblers in general. The NRC estimated the “lifetime” rate of pathological gambling to be 1.5 percent of the adult population, or approximately 3 million people. In addition, in a given year, 0.9 percent of all adults in the United States, approximately 1.8 million people, meet the necessary criteria to be categorized as “past year” pathological gamblers. The NRC estimated that another 3.9 percent of adults (7.8 million people) meet the “lifetime” criteria for problem gambling, and that 2 percent (4 million people) meet “past year” criteria. The NRC also stated that between 3 and 7 percent of those who have gambled in the past year reported some symptoms of problem or pathological gambling .12

The NORC study, based on a national phone survey supplemented with data from on-site interviews with patrons of gambling establishments, concluded that approximately 1.2 percent of the adult population (approximately 2.5 million people) are “lifetime” pathological gamblers and that 0.6 percent (approximately 1.2 million) were “past year.” 13 An additional 1.5 percent 14 of the adult population (approximately 3 million), fit the criteria for “lifetime” problem gamblers; “past year” problem gamblers were 0.7 percent of the population (approximately 1.4 million). Based on “lifetime” data, more than 15 million Americans were identified as “at-risk” gamblers. 15 At-risk gamblers are defined as those who meet 1 or 2 of the DSM-IV criteria. They are “at risk” of becoming “problem” gamblers, but may also gamble recreationally throughout their lives without any negative consequences. These figures varied somewhat when examining phone survey or patron data alone, and also when measuring “past year” gambling as opposed to “lifetime.” (See Tables 4-2, 4-3, and 4-4.) The incidence of problem and pathological gambling among regular gamblers appears to be much higher than in the general population. In NORC’s survey of 530 patrons at gambling facilities, more than 13 percent met the lifetime criteria for pathological or problem gambling, while another 18 percent were classified as “at risk” for developing severe gambling problems. By comparison, the NORC random digit dialing survey of 2,417 members of the general population found that 2.1 percent met the lifetime criteria for pathological or problem gambling, while 7.9 percent were classified as “at risk.”

8 Howard Shaffer, et al., Estimating the Prevalence of Disordered Gambling Behavior in the United States and Canada: A Meta-Analysis (1997). 9 Rachel A. Volberg, Gambling and Problem Gambling in Oregon: Report to the Oregon Gambling Addiction Treatment Foundation at 37 (August 26, 1997). 10 Rachel A. Volberg, Gambling and Problem Gambling in Mississippi: Report to the Mississippi Council on Compulsive Gambling at 31 (November 1996). 11 See Rachel Volberg, Gambling and Problem Gambling in New York: A 10-Year Replication Survey, 1986 to 1996, Report to the New York Council on Problem Gambling (1996) and Lynn S. Wallich, Gambling in Texas: 1995 Survey of Adult and Adolescent Behavior, Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (1996). Cited in Henry R. Lesieur, “Costs and Treatment of Pathological Gambling,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (March 1998). 12 NRC, p. 3-6. 13 0.6 percent past year. Numbers are based on data from patron and telephone survey. (random digit dial data alone is 9 percent). 14 0.7 percent past year. 15 5.8 million past year.