The explosion of online gambling in the United States in the past decade has not given rise to more people with gambling problems, a new study reports.
“We compared results from two nationwide telephone surveys, conducted a decade apart, says John W. Welte, senior research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at University at Buffalo. “We found no significant increase in the rates of problem gambling in the US, despite a nationwide increase in gambling opportunities.”
The first telephone survey interviewed 2,613 people in 1999-2000, and the second survey interviewed 2,963 people in 2011-13. People were asked about their participation in a broad range of gambling activities, including raffles, office pools, pulltabs, bingo, cards, pool, machines, casinos, lottery, online gambling, and sports, horse, or dog track betting.
Despite an increase in opportunities, rates of problem gambling remained stable. Problem gambling includes behaviors such as constantly thinking about gambling, increasing bets to sustain thrill, lying to conceal activity, and the inability to stop, among others.
Using several different criteria, the researchers found no statistically significant change in problem gambling or its more severe form, pathological gambling. Rates of problem gambling remained in the 3.5 to 5.5 percent range, depending on the measure used. Rates of pathological gambling were in the 1.0 to 2.4 percent range.
While there have been frequent stories in the media about women who are gambling addicts, men are more than twice as likely as women to be problem gamblers. In fact, the survey shows the prevalence of problem gambling among women actually decreased, from 2.9 to 2.5 percent.
Overall participation in gambling activities decreased. The percentage of respondents who gambled in the past year dropped to 76.9 percent in 2011-13, down from 82.2 percent in 1999-2000. Among respondents who gambled at least once in the past year, there was a significant reduction in the average number of days on which they gambled—59.9 days per year in 1999-2000 to 53.7 days in 2011-13.
“Our results show it is clear that US residents are gambling less often,” Welte says.
Previous research found that people are twice as likely to be problem gamblers if they live within 10 miles of a casino. So, with a rising number of casinos in the country, why hasn’t problem gambling increased at the same rate?
“It may be due to the economic downturn we experienced starting in 2008, which resulted in a decline in casino business,” Welte says. “It also could be due to the ‘theory of adaptation’—that while initial increases in exposure to gambling venues lead to increases in rates of problem gambling, a population will eventually adapt and further negative consequences will not continue.”
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded the study that appears online in the Journal of Gambling Studies. Other researchers from the Research Institute on Addictions and from State University of New York, Buffalo State are coauthors.
Source: University at Buffalo