(Note: Problem gambling is defined here as a category including serious problem gamblers as well as the most grave condition “pathological gambling”. The terms, “compulsive gambling” is sometimes used interchangeably with “problem gambling.”)

National Rates of Problem Gambling

  • A 1976 University of Michigan study found that .77 percent of a national sample consisted of people considered to be pathological gamblers. In Nevada, the only state at the time to offer widespread legalized casino gambling, the rate was found to be 2.5 percent. In the past five years surveys have established prevalence rates that range from 2.8 percent to 14.5 percent. According to the July 1996 Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, most of these surveys were administered with telephone interviews which has been cause for debate among researchers.

Problem Gambling in Iowa Rises Dramatically After Casinos Introduced

  • Problem gambling in Iowa more than tripled after the arrival of new forms of legalized gambling, including riverboat and Indian reservation casinos. A study done for the Iowa Department of Human Services said lifetime problem gambling increased from 1.7 percent of the population in 1989 to 5.4 percent in 1995. According to this report, the arrival of casinos and other forms of legalized gambling was responsible for this increase.
  • A group of gamblers in Iowa who have experienced relatively minor problems with gambling, and were not yet classified as problem gamblers, nearly doubled in size (from 11.9 to 22.9 percent) during the 1989-95 period when casinos and other new forms of legalized gambling arrived. Gambling may become more serious for this group over time.

Higher Rates of Problem Gambling in States with Casino-style Gambling

  • States which have had casino or casino-style gambling (including video gambling in non-casino settings) for a few years, such as Mississippi and Louisiana, have higher rates of problem gambling than comparable states with limited legalized gambling, according to state-sponsored studies. Louisiana and Mississippi have rates of 7 and 6.8 percent respectively, while Georgia, with limited legal gambling, has a 4.4 percent rate.
  • According to a 1995 study, the “lifetime” and “current” prevalence of problem wagering and probable pathological gambling in Louisiana is higher than in any other state surveyed to that time; the “current” prevalence rate was 4.8 percent and the “lifetime” rate 7.0 percent.
  • Gamblers Anonymous (GA), a self-help program for problem gamblers, reported major increases in membership after casino gambling or similar legalized gambling arrived in a community. The increase was at least 10-fold in the Gulfport, Mississippi, area after casinos arrived.
  • Ten years ago, Minnesota had one GA meeting; by the mid 1990’s, after the arrival of casinos, the number had grown to 49. (More than 100,000 people in Minnesota, 3.2 percent of the state’s population suffer from “increasing negative consequences” from gambling, according to a 1994 study by the Center for Addiction Studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.)
  • GA chapters in the United States increased from 656 in 1990 to 1,038 in late 1995, a period during which legalized gambling, especially in casinos, became far more available.

 Problems in Measuring Problem Gambling/High Rates of Problem Gambling Among Native-Americans in North Dakota

Researchers have long debated which instrument most accurately measures the occurrence of problem gambling. Less attention has been paid to which interview method yields the most valid estimate.

  • A 1993 study conducted by R. Volberg, (Gambling and Problem Gambling Among Native Americans in North Dakota) for a report to the North Dakota Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health, surveyed 400 Native Americans residing in the four counties in North Dakota having the greatest proportion of Natives Americans. Researchers used both a telephone sample and a face-to-face sample. The study found that problem gambling prevalence rates varied depending on the method of interview. Because age and income may be a factor in whether or not the subject has a telephone, the researchers noted that studies utilizing telephone surveys may produce underestimates of problem gambling rates, and face-to-face interviews may yield overestimates.

 Problem Gambling Among Youth

 As gambling becomes more widespread and available, a strong pull is exerted on adolescents, who are especially likely to succumb to problem gambling.

  • The total rate of problem gambling among 18 to 21-year-olds in Louisiana, a state that has legalized many kinds of gambling, is 14.3 percent. Adolescents were more than twice as likely as adults to be pathological gamblers and 3.7 times more likely than adults to be problem gamblers, the lesser but still serious category.
  • Problem gambling rates are higher for youths than for adults

in Minnesota. According to a University of Minnesota-Duluth study, the researchers found that from 4.1 to 6.3 percent of the state’s teenagers have suffered negative consequences from gambling. 

  • The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey reported that 11 percent of calls to their problem-gambling hotline came from teens. A survey of 50 New Jersey high schools by the same organization showed that 90 percent of students had gambled and that 30 percent gambled at least weekly.
  • Studies conducted in 1995 and 1996, on suburban Massachusetts’s youth, suggest the influence of government sponsored gambling on children. A survey of 3067 sixth through twelfth graders in Quincy indicated 25% had played the lottery within the past 30 days. Many of these children had played with a family member. Another survey of 506 middle-school students found that 44.6% had remembered first gambling with a family member. An article in the Journal of Gambling Studies reported that between 9.9% and 14.2% of adolescents are at risk of developing or returning to serious gambling problems while between 4.4% and 7.4% of adolescents exhibit pathological patterns of gambling behavior.

 Source: Westphal, J.R., & Rush, J. (1996), Pathological Gambling in Louisiana: An Epidemiological Perspective. Journal of Louisiana State Medical Society, 148, 353-358.


Some Kinds of Gambling May be More Likely to Lead to Problem Gambling.

  • Problem gamblers in Iowa are most likely to participate in forms of gambling that permit “continuous” gambling activity on a weekly basis. These include (among others) casino table games, casino slot machines and instant lottery games. NOTE: Behavioral correlates of problem gambling include regular gambling and involvement with continuous forms of gambling. Regular gambling is defined as weekly or more frequent involvement in one or more types of gambling. Continuous forms of gambling are characterized by rapid cycles of play as well as the opportunity for players to immediately reinvest their winnings.
  • Video poker, slot machines and other forms of fast-action, small-bet gambling are described as the “crack cocaine” of gambling by Dr. Valerie Lorenz, a problem gambling researcher. She says these attract chronically depressed, low-income people who play compulsively and often quickly become pathological gamblers.
  • A second group of pathological gamblers, better educated and initially more affluent, are more attracted to casino gambling, sports betting and racetracks.

Problem Gamblers Have Higher Suicide Rates Than the General Population

  • The suicide attempt rate in Gulfport, Mississippi went from 24 in 1992 before casinos came, to 85 in 1995 and 137 in 1996 after the arrival of casinos. The increase is attributed by Gulfport Police officials largely to increased problem gambling and the practice of casinos of giving customers free alcoholic beverages.
  • Researchers in Wisconsin say 23 percent of problem gamblers in that state have made suicide attempts.
  • Experts in Minnesota say gambling-related suicides increased between 1991 and 1995 as casinos, the state lottery, and other forms of gambling became more widely available and socially acceptable.

The Economic and Social Cost of Problem Gamblers

  • Social costs of problem gambling—crime, bankruptcy, domestic violence, lost jobs, broken families, welfare costs among them—are put at $9,469 per year per problem gambler according to a 1996 study prepared for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. The annual cost to society in Wisconsin was higher for problem gamblers who gambled in casinos: $10,113 each. The 32,425 problem gamblers in Wisconsin cost the state’s taxpayers, social services agencies, employers etc., about $307 million a year.

 Impacts of Cash Machines on Problem Gamblers

  • Many casino operators have installed new ATM and credit card advance systems on casino floors. There are cashless money systems that provide the gambler with a debit card that can be swiped through a device on the gambling machine. Manufacturers are currently developing ways for customers to by-pass the $300-a-day limit on ATM cards and allowing customers to access their credit cards without a PIN number.
  • A 1996 study for the New York Council on Problem Gambling determined that problem and pathological gamblers lost significantly more in a single day, charged one or more credit cards to the limit, and took out cash withdrawals on credit cards significantly more than non-problem gamblers.