WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Gaming Association (AGA) called a Harvard Medical School study released today estimating the national prevalence of disordered gambling an “important step toward bringing reasoned dialogue” to discussions about gambling disorders.
The study, conducted by the school’s Division on Addictions, found that while “the majority of Americans and Canadians gamble with little or no adverse consequence,” there has been an increase from 0.84 percent to 1.29 percent in the estimated prevalence rate of “disordered” gambling among the adult population, during the last two decades.
(The estimated increase is based on a comparison of 18 studies published between 1977 and 1993 and 17 studies published between 1994 and 1997. The study estimates that during the earlier period, 0.84 percent of the adult population were affected by gambling disorders compared with 1.29 percent during the 1994 to 1997 period.)
“This study shows that only about 1 percent of the adult population has serious pathological problems incident to gambling,” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and CEO of the AGA. “These findings confirm what the AGA has said and what responsible research has shown all along.”
“Now that the outrageous claims of ‘problem gambling run rampant’ by some gaming opponents have been put to rest, perhaps we can take an important first step toward reasoned dialogue about how to help those who do have a problem,” Fahrenkopf said.
Gaming opponents have claimed the prevalence of adult problem gambling is as high as 11 percent. This new study places the most current adult prevalence rate (based on studies done between 1994 and 1997) at 1.29 percent and estimates the mean rate over the last two decades at 1.14 percent.
Another “myth” perpetuated by gaming opponents – that the introduction of casino gaming into an area creates more disordered gambling – was also put into serious question by the study. One of the key findings of the study was that “there is no significant regional variation in the rates of gambling disorders identified across regions of Canada and the United States.” This would seem to allay allegations that new gaming ventures in a region will automatically increase the number of disordered gamblers.
“The study basically confirms what common sense tells us,” Fahrenkopf said. “With the growth of all types of gaming all across the country, more people are gambling, and that growth has resulted in a small increase in problem gambling, but it is not related to any one form of gaming.”
The study also indicates that as gamers acquire “more knowledge about the activity and as this information is disseminated” it is likely there will be fewer disordered gamblers.
Another key finding of the study is that the methodological quality of gambling prevalence studies has not improved in the last 20 years. Noting that most of the 120 studies it analyzed were not peer reviewed and had other serious methodological flaws, the study’s authors make specific recommendations for improving future gambling prevalence studies.
The study also confirmed a 1996 study by the Division on Addictions, which found that the prevalence of disordered gambling was significantly higher among people under 19 years old. This study found there has been no increase in the last 20 years of the prevalence rate of gambling disorders among adolescents.
“The prevalence rate among young people concerns us all,” Fahrenkopf said. “But, it is important to note that the study finds no correlation between legal gambling and the youth prevalence rate. In fact, the study shows that most young people gamble on non-casino card games, games of skill and sports events.”
Fahrenkopf urged the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which funded the Harvard study, to fund further studies into youth gambling to help develop prevention and treatment programs.
The Harvard study, titled Estimating the Prevalence of Disordered Gambling Behavior in the United States and Canada: A Meta-analysis, is a comprehensive analysis of 120 previously conducted independent studies on problem gambling disorders. It is the first such study ever conducted on the issue of problem gambling. A meta-analysis is a research technique that allows scientists to synthesize, or pool, information from many different studies and often draw more reliable conclusions than could have been obtained from any single study.
The first study funded by the National Center for Responsible Gaming will be released Thursday, December 4. This study, conducted by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions, is a “Meta-analysis”of 120 of the most significant problem gambling prevalence studies (many of which were previously unknown) done in the United States and Canada the last two decades. This study is significant because it is the first of its kind done in the area of problem gambling research. A meta-analysis is a research technique that allows scientists to synthesize, or pool, information from many different studies and often draw more reliable conclusions than could have been obtained from any single study.
As a member of the board of the National Center, I have received an embargoed (please honor the embargo) preview copy of the study and am forwarding the attached executive summary from the study. As you can see, the findings of the Harvard study are, for the most part, consistent with what we in the industry acknowledged for some time: that a very small percentage of the public has a problem gambling. It also shows that the overall methodological quality of the studies is generally poor. This study very clearly places the prevalence rate of problem gambling far below the outrageous claims of some of our greatest critics.
However, even though the study confirms that there is only a small percentage of Americans and Canadians who are problem gamblers, since it was funded by casino companies and does indicate that during the past two decades, the rate of gambling disorders has increased among adults in the general population we can expect gaming opponents to distort its findings to attack our industry. For that reason I wanted you to see the executive summary, a list of key findings (including those we consider to be the findings the media will find most interesting), talking points we will be using regarding the study and the media release the AGA will send when the study is released. We will also be working with industry leaders who are on the board of the National Center for Responsible Gaming to place media releases and perhaps be available for media interviews.
We have all become accustomed to preparing for the worst and it is prudent to take that approach in this case. It is important to remember that the AGA and our member companies created the National Center and gave it the autonomy to look into problem gambling because of our commitment to being good corporate citizens. This study is the first step in a long process of finding solutions to problem gambling. It is also yet another step that demonstrates our industry takes its community and social responsibilities very seriously.
ISSUES RAISED IN THE STUDY & OTHER KEY FINDINGS
This the first study funded by the casino industry.
This study does show there are several million men and women who have what it calls gambling disorders.
Gambling disorder is characterized in the study as level 1 or level 2. Our best definition of:
level 1 is behavior that is a medically diagnosable impulse disorders.
level 2 disordered gamblers have not been clinically diagnosed, but have reported behaviors that indicate they have had varying degrees of problems that can be associated with gambling. The estimated prevalence rates of disordered gamblers is as follows:
- 3.94 percent of the adults in the general populations in the U.S. and Canada have experienced either level 3 or level 2 gambling disorders in the past year. This figure is a combination of level 3 (1.14 percent) and level 2 (2.80 percent)
- 1.14 percent of the adult general population has experienced level 3 gambling disorder in the past year.
- 5.45 percent of all adults in the general population have experienced either level 3 of level 2 gambling disorders in their lifetime. (This figure is a combination of lifetime level 3 (1.6 percent) and lifetime level 2 (3.85 percent) disordered gambling.
- This study has a chart that shows between 11.2 million and 23 million Americans and Canadians have experienced gambling disorders in the past year. This is no more than multiplying the percentages above times the total population.
The level of disordered gambling in the past year (combined level 3 and level 2) is much higher among people between the ages of 10 and 19 years of age (13.33 percent) and college students (13.95 percent).
Studies done between 1994 and 1997 show a “significantly higher prevalence rate” than earlier studies. Studies done from 1977 to 1993 show a mean lifetime adult prevalence rate of level 3 and level 2 combined estimated prevalence rate of 4.38, compared to 6.72 percent for 1994-1997 studies. An increase of almost 53 percent.
There is no comparable increase for young people or college students.
There is no significant regional variation in the rates of gambling disorders.
The overall methodological quality of disordered gambling prevalence research has not improved during the past 20 years.
OUR KEY TALKING POINTS
- 95 percent of all adult Americans and Canadians gamble with little or no adverse consequence.
- The prevalence of problem gambling is much lower than some of our critics have claimed, such as the prevalence of problem gambling is as high as 8 to 11 percent.
- Only between 0.90 percent and 1.38 percent of the adult general population suffered from serious, level 3 or pathological gambling disorders during the last year. These are individuals with medically diagnosable impulse disorders. And it is the only category where we know there is a serious problem.
- While young people have a significantly higher rate of disordered gambling they are gambling on non-casino card games, games of skill and sports gambling. Not at casinos.
- There is no “significant regional variation” in the rates of gambling disorders.
- The casino gaming industry created the National Center for Responsible Gaming and supports this type of study because we are committed to acting responsibly with regard to those individuals who have a problem gambling.
- The methodological quality of gambling studies needs to be improved.
- The prevalence of level 3 problem gambling is far lower than drug abuse/dependence (6.2 percent prevalence rate) and alcohol abuse/dependence (13.8 percent prevalence rate).
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Question: The study shows that at least 17 million people are problem gamblers. Doesn’t that confirm claims that gambling costs society more than it benefits society?
Answer: No. First of all, the study makes no evaluation of the cost to society of problem gambling. Second, the number you quote includes both the level 3 and level 2 disorder, and the study itself indicates we need to know a great deal more about who the level 2 gamblers are to know how the degree of problem they have or they are to society. Finally, what the study very clearly shows is that the overwhelming majority of Americans and Canadians gamble with little or no adverse consequence. Our industry pays billions of dollars a year in wages and benefits, and still billions more in taxes while providing millions of people an entertainment option they clearly want.
Question: There has been a dramatic increase in problem gambling among the adult general population since 1993. Is it just a coincidence that that coincides with the growth of riverboat gambling?
Answer: The entire gaming industry has grown dramatically this decade. This study does not indicate what the cause of the increased prevalence is. It does, in the executive summary, point out that more than half of all disordered gambling research has been released since 1992 and that the pattern of recent investigation of “higher risk” populations may have created a misleading perceptions of increasing rates of disordered gambling. It also suggests that the increased advertising may play a role, or that the simple fact that has caused gaming to be more socially acceptable may have contributed to the growth.
Question: The study seems to indicate that since gambling has become more acceptable the higher percentage of prevalence among young people means more of them will have the same problem as adults. How do you respond to that?
Answer: Actually, what my reading of the study says is that as people become more accustomed to gaming, the level of the disorder goes down. It also shows that disordered gambling is pretty far down on the scale of psychiatric disorders in the United States. Level 3 gambling disorders stand at 1.6 percent lifetime, whereas alcohol abuse/dependence is at 13.8 percent.
Question: Now that the industry knows how many problem gamblers there are, what do you intend to do about it?
Answer: We are aggressively pursuing strategies for dealing with the problem. We’ve always known that there are people who have problem gambling, that is why we created the National Center for Responsible Gaming and gave it the autonomy to do studies such as this study. We want to find solutions, and our industry is committed to acting responsibly with regard to problem gambling.