US Research Study Shows No Significant Increase in Problem Gambling Despite Expansion Drives

The Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), which was established in 1970 by the New York State Division of Research-Department of Mental Hygiene, in collaboration with the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) recently published a report, showing the results of a more than a decade study about the effects of increased gambling prospects in the U.S.

John W. Welte PhD, Senior Research Scientist at the RIA at UB briefly summarized the comparative results of two national telephone surveys that the institute had carried out a decade apart. In an RIA publication he mentioned that there is “no significant increase in the rate of problem gambling in the U.S.” even though gambling opportunities in the country had increased.

Dr. Welte’s summary disclosed that based on the RIA’s comparison of the two separate interview results, gambling participation as a whole had declined from a rate of 82.2 percent in 1999 to 2000, down to 76.9 percent in 2011 to 2013. He added that survey respondents who engaged in gambling activities at least once in previous years had significantly reduced the average number of days spent gambling, from 59.50 days annually in 1999-2000, down to 53.7 days a year in 2011-2013.

The nationwide survey conducted via telephone interviews posed questions inquiring into a respondent’s participation in a wide range of betting activities, such as those related to lotteries, casinos, online gambling, race tracks, bingo, electronic gaming machines, gaming pools, scratch cards, pull tabs, raffles and office pools. Dr. Welte’s brief conclusion is that U.S. citizens of today are gambling less frequently.

Still, the RIA Senior Research Scientist could only offer conjectures on the reasons behind the decline, since previous research findings had concluded that those who lived within 10 miles of a casino had likelier tendencies of becoming a gambler. However, contrary to what was expected in view of the increased number of casinos that became accessible to U.S. residents, the occurrence of problem gambling did not increase at the same rate.

Dr. Welte stated that the decrease could be due to the decline of the casino business at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. He offered the “theory of adaptation” as possible explanation, which he elucidated as a condition in which a population eventually adapts to a situation in a way that diminishes the negative consequences of that condition. Although at the onset of the public’s exposure to gambling venues resulted to an increase in problem gambling, the population subsequently adapted to its existence.

The first of the two nationwide telephone interviews was conducted in 1999-2000 involving 2,613 survey respondents. The second was carried out in 2011 to 2013 to which 2,963 individuals were interviewed.

The researchers used several different criteria for determining a person’s susceptibility to gambling addiction, premised on behaviors indicating that a person is:

• Always thinking about gambling; • Thinking of increasing money placed as bets to increase the element of excitement; • Lying about his or her gambling activities; • Unable to discontinue a gambling activity;

The RIA study is entitled “Problem Gambling — A Decade of Change” and was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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