Gambling study refines 20 years of numbers: Problem gambling on the rise |

Gambling study refines 20 years of numbers: Problem gambling on the rise

Sally J. Taylor

Tracking gambling problem trends has produced divergent numbers as frustrating to compare as American dollars, Greek drachmas and Polish zloty.

With casinos and other gambling venues becoming more and more accessible, researchers have needed a better system of tracking problem gambling.

Enter Harvard Associate Professor of Psychology Howard Shaffer, Ph.D. In a study released last week, Shaffer and company reconciled 120 studies conducted over 20 years into usable baseline numbers.

The composite study demonstrates decisively that problem gambling is on the rise, though not as dramatically as some individual studies suggest.

According to the Harvard study, the percentage of people with a gambling problem in the United States and Canada has risen from 0.84 percent of the adult population to 1.29 percent during the past two decades. Those numbers are based on 18 studies published between 1977 to 1993 and 17 studies published from 1994 to 1997.

Problem gambling includes a preoccupation with gambling, an increasing amount of money spent on gambling, committing crimes to finance gambling, and social problems due to gambling.

“While the majority of Americans and Canadians who gamble do so without experiencing any adverse consequences,” Shaffer said, “our finding shows that there is a growing percentage of the adult population who are at risk for gambling disorders. This is significant as gambling disorders have both social and economic costs.”

Having concise numbers to work with helps in the process of educating the public on gambling problems, according to Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

“Numbers are so dangerous, as soon as you say ‘X’ number, if you don’t have resource to the study, you don’t know what the numbers really mean,” she said.

In the Harvard study, “the important thing is that the number is moving, it’s not just a stagnant issue,” O’Hare said.

For sociologists and addiction counselors, the study provides a framework to consider what are the risk factors of problem gambling and how to combat them.

“We know we should be paying more attention to the problem,” O’Hare said.

Although the Harvard study did not address the cause of the increase, according to Dr. Shaffer, the increase of legalized gambling during the past 20 years may factor into the increase in adult gambling disorders.

“As gambling has become more socially accepted and accessible during the past two decades, the general adult population has started to gamble in increasing numbers,” Shaffer said. “We are now beginning to witness a growth in gambling disorders among this group.”

With numbers on the rise, O’Hare encouraged anyone who believes they might have a problem to seek help.

The Nevada Council on Problem Gambling operates a toll-free, 24-hour counseling number at: (800) 522-4700.

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