Main Characteristics of Pathological and Problem Gamblers in The US

It is possible that the numbers from the NRC and NORC studies may understate the extent of the problem. Player concealment or misrepresentation of information and the reliance of surveyors on telephone contact alone may cause important information on problem or pathological gamblers to be missed. For example, among pathological gamblers, a common characteristic— in fact, one of the DSM-IV criteria— is concealing the extent of their gambling. Data in the NORC survey support the theory that even non-problem gamblers tend to understate their negative experiences related to gambling. And, in fact, survey respondents greatly exaggerated their wins and underreported their losses 16 Similarly, respondents were five times more likely to report that their spouse’s gambling contributed to a prior divorce than to admit that their own gambling was a factor. 17 Thus, the actual prevalence rates may be significantly higher than those reported. Additional research is needed to verify the full scope of problem and pathological gambling. 18

Although it is impossible to predict who will develop a gambling problem, it is clear that pathological and problem gamblers are found in every demographic group, from college students to the elderly, housewives to professionals, solid citizens to prison inmates. (See Table 4-5.) The following short vignettes relate the personal testimonies of the dangers and tragic consequences of pathological gambling.

Mary began visiting the riverboat casinos in Kansas City, Missouri, shortly after her husband of 40 years died. “It was something to do. The lights, the music, there were people around. You could forget where you were at,” she said. March 9, 1997, marked the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. She decided to stay out that night to help forget the pain. She won several jackpots, including one of $28,000. From then on, Mary became a regular. Casino workers knew her by name, and treated her as a VIP. In 1997, she received 14 W-2 forms from the casino, each representing a jackpot of over $1,200.

But behind the wins were many, many losses. The money from her husband’s life insurance, his $50,000 annual pension, and Mary’s monthly social security payment all went to the casinos. She then racked up $85,000 in debt on her 14 credit cards. She was forced to file for bankruptcy. Not one did anyone in the casinos ever ask this 60-year-old grandmother if she had a problem with gambling. Instead, besides the free rooms and meals at the casino, she was also bombarded with marketing mailings. “They know you have no control,” she said. “They do everything they can to lure you in.”
—” Mary”

As a child, Scott watched his parents scrape by paycheck to paycheck. He vowed it would be different with him. “I thought the way to a good life was money,” the New York native said. “And I thought the way to a lot of money was gambling.” Scott placed his first bet with a bookie his freshman year of college. He found himself in debt within weeks. Later, he stole $600 from his first employer, a supermarket, to cover gambling debts. At age 24, Scott made his first trip to Atlantic City, his “real downfall.” “The casinos were an escape,” he said. “They gave meaning to my life.” They also helped Scott block out the depression caused by his earlier gambling activities. Sometimes he would make the two-hour drive twice each weekend. Other times he gambled as many as 50 hours straight.

16 NORC, pp. 31-34. 17 NORC, p. 48. 18 NORC.