Has problem gambling worsened with states' relaxation of restrictions on gaming activity? What has been the impact of new gambling opportunities in areas such as fantasy football? Is the link between alcohol use and gambling behavior still prominent?
It tends to be difficult to answer these questions on a regular basis because gambling research doesn't enjoy the same funding support as research into alcohol and illegal drug use. This is why John Welte, PhD, senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, is grateful for the opportunity to follow up on a study he conducted in 1999-2000 to investigate problem and pathological gambling behavior. Both Welte's original study and the follow-up research he now will conduct received support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA); he wrote his original grant as a project examining comorbid alcohol dependence and pathological gambling. "I'm very indebted to [NIAAA] for funding a study that is more on gambling," Welte says. The follow-up telephone survey will not track the present behaviors of individuals who were interviewed a decade ago, but will take a second representative sample in order to re-examine overall prevalence of gambling behaviors in the U.S. About 3,000 individuals will be interviewed, Welte says. Most of the questions will be the same as those asked in the 1999-2000 survey, although there will be new questions on some relatively new forms of gambling, as well on personality/psychopathology measures in areas such as depression and anxiety. The extent of a relationship between access to legal gaming opportunities and problematic gambling behavior will be explored closely. "I suspect there's more gambling now, and I suspect there's more problem gambling," Welte says. The 1999 survey found that 82% of adults reported engaging in gambling in the previous year. The results established a strong link between problem drinking and problem gambling, with problem drinkers found to be 23 times more likely than people without a drinking problem to have a gambling problem. Welte says his interest in conducting research on gambling behavior probably stems from two sources: his own interest in gambling during his youth (poker was his game), and a desire to make the kind of mark that is more difficult to achieve in the more crowded field of alcohol and drug research. "It's been difficult to get support," Welte says in regard to the funding picture for gambling research that has resulted in a relative lack of major national studies. "The NIH institutes have waxed and waned about gambling in general."