The American Gaming Association (AGA) is disappointed that the National Gambling Impact Study Commission has decided to move forward with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) patron survey. It is our view that the NORC model for a patron survey is seriously flawed in its construction and methodology, and we remain unconvinced that those flaws have been corrected.
The AGA fully and completely supports research that will provide a better understanding of problem gambling and have, in fact, repeatedly stated our support for such fair and objective research. We have demonstrated our support by obtaining the cooperation of two of our member companies to participate in the pilot patron survey, and we will continue to cooperate with the commission on all aspects of its research.
We have serious reservations about how the pilot patron survey data was collected. Prior to beginning its polling, NORC stated that if the percentage of patrons refusing to participate in the survey exceeded 15 percent, the study would not be valid, and the commission should not proceed with the survey. In fact, the refusal rate on the pilot patron survey fell far short of meeting that target, making it impossible to rely on the findings.
Our most serious concerns, however, are about how the final data, once collected, will be interpreted and reported. A perfect example of why we are concerned about the interpretation and reporting of the data can be found in the presentation of the preliminary results at a Sept. 9 Research Subcommittee meeting.
Contrary to the expectations of many, as well as NORC’s own hypothesis, the pilot patron survey identified no current pathological gamblers in casinos. Ignoring that finding, NORC grouped everyone who responded to one or more “problem gambling” assessment questions and then erroneously and improperly concluded that 36 percent of cases (or 31 individuals) had a gambling problem. NORC’s improper reading of the results led the general public to believe that NORC was saying, “One-third of gamblers recently surveyed at three casinos…are considered problem gamblers,” as one newspaper later reported.
In our view, NORC acted irresponsibly and without scientific basis in attempting to interpret and characterize the findings. While clinicians may derive value if an individual responds affirmatively to one of NORC’s questions, that does not mean that anyone who answers affirmatively to one or more questions meets any scientifically accepted definition of a problem gambler. In fact, Rachel Volberg, a NORC adviser, “followed the lead” of other researchers and “used the terms ‘problem gambler’ to identify respondents who score 3 or 4 points on the DSM-IV Screen and ‘severe problem gambler’ to identify respondents who score 5 or more on the DSM-IV Screen” in a 1997 study conducted for the Oregon Gambling Addiction Treatment Foundation.
Interpretation of the data as it relates to DSM-IV questions is not an issue for the AGA to decide. And it is our view that it is not an issue for NORC to decide either. That job is best left to those with the appropriate statutory authority and scientific expertise. The body charged by Congress with assessment of pathological or problem gambling is the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences. At a minimum, the AGA believes that NORC should merely report its data, and leave the interpretation to more qualified experts such as those who make up the congressionally mandated NRC panel on pathological gambling.