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Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
World Health Organization

Problem Gambling

Edited by Mirza I. Rahman, MD, MPH

Guyana Journal, March 2006

Gambling can infrequently lead to tremendous wealth. Recently, a group of eight co-workers, including three immigrants, in Nebraska, claimed the record U.S. lottery prize of $365 million. They opted to take a lump sum payment of $177.3 million before taxes, which when divided equally was whopping $15.5 million after taxes. The flip side of such a feel good story is that people who gamble to excess can find themselves caught-up in recurring and serious problems.

Thus, the National Council of Problem Gambling (NCPG) is launching its Problem Gambling Awareness 2006 campaign, a grassroots public awareness and outreach program. It will be held March 6-12, 2006. The goal of this campaign is to educate the general public and health care professionals about the warning signs of problem gambling and raise awareness about the help that is available both locally and nationally.

The NCPG is the national advocate for programs and services to assist problem gamblers and their families. The ongoing mission of the NCPG is to promote awareness of problem gambling and the availability of counseling support services to help minimize the effects of this national problem and to provide a message of hope and help to those in need.

Research shows that 2% - 3% of the US population will have a gambling problem in any given year. That is 6 million to 9 million Americans; yet only a small fraction seeks out assistance, such as treatment and self-help recovery programs.

While it is important to recognize that most people can gamble without developing a problem, a small percentage of persons who gamble suffer enormous negative social, economic, and psychological consequences. Individuals, families, and communities all suffer from problem gambling, and, while it would be impossible to describe all of the repercussions associated with problem gambling, the following issues help to illustrate why problem gambling can be so destructive.

Scope of gambling in the US:

  • 85% of US adults have gambled at least once in their lives, 80% in past year.
  • Since 1975, the proportion of adults who "never gambled" dropped from 1 in 3 to 1 in 7.
  • 48 States with some form of legalized gambling (Hawaii and Utah are the exceptions).
  • 2002 U.S. legal gaming revenue was $68.7 billion.
  • In 1999 the National Gambling Impact Study Commission
    estimated the annual cost to society of problem gambling was $5 billion.
  • During fiscal year 2002, U.S. lottery sales totaled $42.4 billion; per capita sales were $168.
  • It is estimated that in 1997 Americans collectively wagered more than $1/2 trillion.
  • Consumers spend more on legal gaming in the U.S. than most other forms of entertainment combined.
  • Forty to 60 percent of cash wagered in casinos is withdrawn from ATMs, either from personal accounts or as cash advances from credit cards.

Domestic Issues
Effects of adult problem gambling on children:

  • Children of compulsive gamblers are often prone to suffer abuse, as well as neglect, as a result of parental problem or pathological gambling.
  • Research consistently shows higher rates of pathological gambling in teens whose parents gamble too much.
  • Children of problem gamblers have been shown to have higher levels of use for tobacco, alcohol, drug use, and overeating than do their classroom peers.
  • Child endangerment and child abuse may increase.
  • Studies indicate that between 10 and 17 percent of children of compulsive gamblers had been abused.
  • Child endangerment was exemplified in Oregon with the September 2001 report of an Oregon licensed day-care provider who left three children (1, 2 and 3 years old) in a van for over 11 hours while she gambled in a casino.

Domestic Violence

  • Between 25-50 percent of spouses of pathological gamblers have been abused.
  • Case studies of 10 casino communities revealed that the majority of those communities witnessed increases in domestic violence related to the opening of casinos.


  • Several studies suggest that crime rates rise with increased availability of gambling to communities, but this issue is under intense debate.
  • Forty percent of clients enrolled in Oregon’s gambling treatment system reported committing crimes to finance their gambling.
  • As access to money becomes more limited, gamblers often resort to crime in order to pay debts, appease bookies, maintain appearances,and garner more money to gamble.
  • Studies of Gamblers Anonymous (GA) members report that approximately half of the participants had stolen to gamble and over one-third had been arrested.
  • The vast majority of gambling-related crimes are non-violent; embezzlement, check forgery, stealing credit cards, fencing stolen goods, tax evasion, insurance fraud, employee theft, and fraud are common gambling-related crimes.


  • Ten percent of clients enrolled in Oregon’s gambling treatment system considered and formulated plans to commit suicide within six months of enrollment to treatment.
  • A major depressive disorder is likely to occur in 76 percent of pathological gamblers.

The National Problem Gambling Awareness Week website has a variety of tools, suggested activities, and free material to promote awareness of problem gambling, and more importantly, to offer hope and help for those who suffer from gambling problems.

Additionally, they have a 24-hour confidential national helpline, 1-800-522-4700, for those who need immediate help with their problem gambling.

Dr. Rahman is board certified in both Family Medicine and General Preventive Medicine & Public Health.