New study debunks Problem Gambler myths

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Jul 24, 2011 Posted in Op-Ed | No Comments »

A new study by two Harvard Medical School researchers, Associate Professor of Psychiatry Howard Schaffer and his colleague Ryan Martin, has seemingly debunked the notion that access to gambling creates more problem gamblers –something constantly asserted as a fact by anti-gambling believers.

In their findings the two determined, “The current available evidence suggests that the rate of PG (pathological gambling) has remained relatively stable during the past 35 years despite an unprecedented increase in opportunities and access to gambling.”

Schaffer was contacted by the Chicago Tribune, and told the paper:

“When gambling becomes newly available in an area, you’ll see some increase in gambling,” he says. “Some people who would not have gambled become willing to try.” That’s especially true in places that (unlike Illinois) had no legal gambling before. But the effect, contrary to myth, soon subsides.

“I was so wrong about this when I started this work,” Shaffer admits. He expected it would take generations for people to adjust their behavior in response to greater availability. In fact, “people gambling on the Internet change from gambling more to less in weeks. We never would have predicted that.”

Another very interesting finding in the study was that “approximately 98% of individuals with PG have a co-occurring disorder; among these individuals, the co-occurring disorder preceded or emerged simultaneously with PG 76.5% of the time, while PG preceded the co-occurring disorder 23.5% of the time (Kessler et al 2008).”

The study also found that our current metric for determining if a person is, or is likely to become, a problem gambler is flawed [bold mine]: “Although much more research is necessary, in the absence of evidence for a distinct group of PGs, we can conclude that recreational gamblers and PGs have similar characteristics; the difference is that PGs just have more of these characteristics and/or more intense play patterns. In other words, this finding suggests that PG is not a unique disorder.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding for proponents of online gaming legislation was what Schaffer and Martin had to say on Internet gambling [bold mine]: “…the National Comorbidity Survey Replication found that 1% of the population used the Internet for gambling (Kessler et al 2008). Similarly, a study examining gambling behavior among a representative sample of adolescents and young adults observed that only 2-3% of participants had gambled via the Internet during the past year (Barnes et al 2010; Welte et al 2009). Further, a longitudinal study examining the gambling behavior of newly subscribed Internet bettors indicated that this population adapted to the Internet gambling service rapidly (i.e., quickly developing declines in participation, number of bets and size of stakes; LaPlante et al 2008b).”

If you would like to read the entire study it is available here

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