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Survey: Gambling opportunities up, but problem gambling stable

November 6, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Results of telephone surveys conducted a dozen years apart appear to indicate a decrease in problem gambling behaviors in the U.S., despite the continued boom in legal gambling opportunities. University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions researchers reported the findings, which have been published online in the Journal of Gambling Studies.

Funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the study interviewed around 2,600 individuals in 1999-2000 and nearly 3,000 people in 2011-2013, asking them about a range of gambling activities from office pools all the way up to casino gaming. The researchers found that rates of problem gambling behaviors, such as inability to stop gambling and increasing bets in order to sustain thrill, remained relatively stable at 3.5 to 5.5% over the two periods studied.

Pathological gambling prevalence was in the 1 to 2.4% range, the study found. In addition, the prevalence of past-year gambling of any type dropped from 82.2% of respondents in 1999-2000 to 76.9% in 2011-2013.

“Our results show it is clear that U.S. residents are gambling less often,” Research Institute on Addictions senior research scientist John W. Welte, Ph.D., said in a Nov. 5 news release.

Welte speculates that a sluggish economy may explain why growth in the number of casinos nationally hasn't led to a similar increase in the number of problem gamblers. He has conducted previous research showing that individuals who live within 10 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be problem gamblers.

The most recent survey found that men are more than twice as likely as women to be problem gamblers, and that the percentage of women engaging in problem gambling behavior is actually dropping.