Study: 13% of Iowans Risk Gambling Problem

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

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By Adam Carros

DES MOINES, Iowa – At least one in every 10 Iowans is at risk of developing a gambling problem, according to a new report released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Health.

While Iowa’s percentage of pathological gambling remains low at about 1 percent, Mark Vander Linden, program manager of the IDPH Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention, said the 13.1 percent of Iowans who are at risk for developing a gambling problem is high.

“It’s a large percentage,” he said in an interview.

A 2011 survey of about 1,700 Iowa adults who were interviewed for gambling attitudes and behaviors found that 91 percent reported having gambled and 69 percent reported gambling in the past 12 months.

“While this survey shows most Iowans (80 percent) say they gamble for entertainment or fun, it’s clear the activity isn’t always perceived as being harmless by those around the gambler,” said Vander Linden. “Although the percentage of pathological gambling is low, more than one in five adult Iowans (22 percent) report having been negatively affected by the gambling behaviors of family members, friends, or others they know.”

He called the level of Iowans impacted negatively by gambling in their surroundings “surprising.”

Of the 13 percent of Iowans who report one or more symptoms of problem gambling in the past 12 months, Vander Linden noted that 18 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to reduce or quit gambling.

The most common gambling activity reported by Iowans was raffle tickets (including charities), followed by casino slot machines, lotteries and scratch tickets or pull tabs. The common forms of gambling for Iowans include casino table games and cards with family members or friends.

Iowa currently ranks high among states with gaming opportunities with three state-licensed race-track casinos, 18 state-licensed riverboat casinos, three Native American casinos and the Iowa Lottery.

“I think gambling is a part of our culture. That’s true in Iowa and that’s true in pretty much every state across the country,” Vander Linden said. “I think (the report) speaks to how integrated it has become, how accepted it has become in our culture in Iowa. It’s no longer something that is happening in back rooms. It’s something that’s available to us literally on every corner through a lottery outlet and several places through casinos.”

The Iowa Legislature may take up the issue of legalizing online poker during the 2012 session – a move backers say would regulate an activity that already is going on illegally through off-shore betting operations.

Vander Linden said the issue is a policy question for lawmakers, but his impression is “there are not a lot of Iowans that are gambling on the Internet right now.”

“I feel pretty confident in saying that. Not a lot of Iowans are gambling on the Internet in the general population and there are not a lot of Iowans who have sought out treatment from us that are gambling on the Internet,” he said. “What will happen if it’s legalized and that door is open, it’s hard to definitively say because there isn’t a state where you can draw on an example where that has happened before.”

The study was conducted between Feb. 26 and May 9 by the University of Northern Iowa Center for Social and Behavioral Research and involved 470 adult Iowans who responded via online questionnaires and via 1,230 telephone interviews. To see the complete report, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/IGTP/Reports.aspx.

Vander Linden said symptoms of problem gambling include: a preoccupation with gambling; need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement; repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling; restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop gambling; gambling as a way to escape; returning another day to “get even” after losing money gambling; lying to conceal the extent of gambling; committing illegal acts to finance gambling; jeopardizing or losing significant relationships because of gambling; relying on others to provide money to relieve financial problems caused by gambling; betting more than one could afford to lose; and feeling guilty about the way one gambles or what happens when gambling.

Vander Linden said he was encouraged that 90 percent of the Iowa participants said they were aware of the state’s help line (by calling 1-800-BETS-OFF or visiting the www.1800betsoff.org Web site).

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