Percentage of Iowans with Gambling Problem Declines

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A University of Iowa psychiatrist and gambling researcher says his latest published study on compulsive gambling has found that the percentage of gamblers who report gambling problems has dropped despite the expansion of casinos in the state.

However, Dr. Donald W. Black, says the survey results aren't apt to prompt backers of a new Cedar Rapids gaming casino to feature him or his work in a promotional campaign for the proposed new casino. The survey results still focus on problem gambling, he says.

"I could assure you people who run gambling casinos want to run away from the idea that it causes problems," Black says. "You don't want to talk about addictive gamblers when you're promoting something that's supposed to be fun and exciting. It's just a downer."

Black says the study's results, which have been published in the latest issue of Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, come as something of "a surprise."

"Additional casinos did not lead to more and more people with compulsive gambling problems as I thought it might," says Black. "My theory has always been — and there is some data for this — that if you build it, they will come. So if you keep building casinos, the number of problem gamblers would continue to climb indefinitely. And my data shows that that is not true."

Black's study is based on the responses of 356 Iowa residents who completed the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS), an established device to measure lifetime gambling behavior, in a period from 2006 to 2008. The data comes from a time after a growth spurt in the number of casinos in Iowa and is compared to similar Iowa surveys in 1989 and 1995, Black says.

The latest survey found that 83 percent of those in the survey reported no gambling-related problems, an improvement from the 1995 survey when a smaller percentage, 73 percent, reported no gambling related problems. In the 1989 survey, 86 percent of Iowans reported no gambling-related problems.

At the same time, the current survey found 1.4 percent of respondents to be problem gamblers or gambling addicts, a drop from 2 percent in the 1995 survey. The 1989 survey, which measured gambling behavior in Iowa before the state's first casino opened in 1991, found one-tenth of 1 percent of respondents who identified themselves as problem gamblers.

Black says the percentage decline since the 1995 survey in problem gambling is a result that he says he didn't foresee during a period when the number of casinos more than doubled in Iowa. Today, Iowa is home to 18 state-licensed casinos and three casinos (one of which is currently closed) operated by American Indian tribal councils.

"It has to do with the novelty of gambling wearing off even for compulsive gamblers," Black says he surmises. "You just don't see the number of compulsive gamblers continue to rise indefinitely as you create new casinos."

The study results come as a Cedar Rapids-centered group of investors, led by Steve Gray, are working to win approval to build a gaming casino in Cedar Rapids. The group, Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC, is in the midst of a petition drive to prompt a May 7 referendum in Linn County on the casino issue. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission must then approve a gaming license for Linn County if the local vote succeeds.

Three others in the Department of Psychiatry at the College of Medicine at the University of Iowa and two professors at the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Social and Behavioral Research helped Black in the survey research on gambling behavior in Iowa.

Black says Iowans who have trouble controlling their gambling can get help by calling the state's problem-gambling hotline, 1-800-BETS-OFF.

The Iowa Office of Gambling Treatment and Prevention says 88 percent of Iowans gamble in one form or another and 3 percent develop a problem.
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