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IT’S ACADEMIC: Rendell IS Gamblor

gamblebandit.jpgFROM THE ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL:

“The governor recently told the Lancaster New Era editorial board that for every one person addicted to gambling or who lost a pay check to gambling, he can show us 500 who go and have the time of their life.

I wonder how these numbers were produced. They are far out of line with the best social science research in the state and the country about the numbers of people with gambling compulsions.

Let us compare the governor’s numbers with those produced by national experts regarding the prevalence of gambling problems in the general adult population. For every 500 people there are about five pathological gamblers and 14 at-risk and problem gamblers. So, the governor’s number is nearly 20 times smaller (1 vs. 19) than what one would expect to find based on the national research.”

Using estimates of the number of disordered gamblers among all adults in Pennsylvania, the scenario becomes even more distorted. Results from our Mansfield University State Survey of 2006 suggest that among 500 adult Pennsylvanians, there are 2.5 pathological gamblers and 21.5 at-risk and problem wagerers. Compared with these numbers, the governor’s number is nearly 24 times smaller [than statistical reality]

[…] If we stick only to gamblers in the state population and use their prevalence rate of disordered gambling, for every 500 gamblers there are about 56.5 at risk, problem and pathological gamblers. Now the governor’s number is more than 50 times smaller [than statistical reality].

It can get a lot worse. Research shows that gambling addiction increases as the proximity to gambling decreases and the ease of gambling increases. The governor asks us to go to Philadelphia with him to see the people boarding the buses. We surveyed people in Philadelphia and found that for every 500 Philadelphia gamblers there are about 117 at-risk, problem and pathological gamblers. Now the governor’s number is more than 100 times smaller than what the research shows.

It cannot possibly get any worse can it? Oh, yes it can. The governor did not tell us about the demographic characteristics of people boarding the bus in Philly. Research shows that teenagers, males and disadvantaged members of society are more likely to have gambling problems. Taking one of these subgroups, our results suggest that among 500 African-American gamblers there would be about 153 who experience gambling problems.

It’s even worse than that. The above discussion was based on people who report gambling problems within the past year. If I were to include people who have ever had gambling problems in their lifetime, a lot of the numbers above would likely double in size. Moreover, if we look at combinations of risk factors, such as being male and a minority group member or being male and a Philadelphian, then again the rates above would increase. Don’t even ask about the problem of people underreporting (or denying) their gambling problems to survey researchers like me. That will lead me to underestimate the extent of the problem!

I believe that leaders in our state really need to become educated about and should take seriously the numbers and percentages of people who become problem gamblers in society. The national experts have shown us that these numbers are far from trivial. They rival those of people who abuse and are dependent on drugs. Who is going to fight the war on gambling addiction when we all are pushing for profits from gambling to lower our taxes? As we have done as a society with drugs and alcohol, we especially top government servants need to properly inform and educate people about the risks connected to gambling.

Let us start down this road by immediately setting up a task force to investigate and reduce gambling dependency. Perhaps we should even call it the ”Pennsylvania Gaming Addiction Board” before the rest of the expected 60,000 slot machines are put in our backyards. And, don’t use a percentage of the profits from casinos to support this group!


Timothy J. Madigan, Ph.D., is associate professor of sociology at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa.

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