How did you become one of the key individuals in the promotion of responsible gaming in the U.S.?
“This is an area where we can make a difference.”
I have been interested in responsible gaming and public policy issues raised by problem gambling for several years. I believe that by working together, the gaming industry, government and charitable organizations like the NCPG can meaningfully improve the lives of problem gamblers and their families. This is an area where we can make a difference.
How do you define the term “responsible gaming?”
The American Gaming Association’s Responsible Gaming Resource Guide defines it as: any strategy, policy or program instituted by a gaming entity to proactively address problem gambling and/or underage gambling issues.
Since the National Council on Problem Gambling is supposed to maintain a “neutral stance” on gambling, does your organization acknowledge gambling as a popular and relatively safe form of entertainment for most people?
Yes, but we need to learn much more about why some people are unable to control their gambling, and how we can spot these problems early on, before they spiral out of control. If gambling is legal in a community, it is inexcusable not to have prevention programs aimed at youth, just as we do with alcohol, drugs, etc. The NCPG has affiliates in 34 states, and on the state level we work to provide these resources. On the national level we advocate for legislation and programs to help problem gamblers, sponsor conferences and academic journals and support research.
Do you gamble in any form yourself?
Yes. For example, I have investments in the stock market. I also work every day with individuals who have been devastated by pathological gambling, and their strength and courage in dealing with this overwhelming disease are an inspiration to me.
How prevalent is problem gambling as an affliction in the U.S.?
Approximately 1% of adults would meet criteria for pathological gambling in the past year. Another 2-3% could probably be classified as problem gamblers. Youth consistently show double the rate of adult problems. Seniors and minorities also have elevated rates. By comparison, the past year rate of anti-social personality disorder is just over 1%, drug abuse/dependence is 2.5%, and alcohol abuse/dependence is roughly 6%.
Has the growth in the number of land-based gambling venues across the U.S. had a marked affect on the number of problem gamblers in America?
This is a very difficult question to answer without research. Only 2 prevalence studies have ever been done on a national level. Most states have similarly failed to study this issue. With greater awareness of problem gambling, and a decline in stigma about seeking treatment for mental health disorders, the number of individuals calling helplines and seeking treatment is growing. It is also important to note that only a few states fund any services for problem gamblers at all.
What are some of the symptoms that may indicate that an individual has a gambling problem?
Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or cut back, gambling until your last dollar is gone, using savings or income to gamble while other bills go unpaid, feeling depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses.
Are there certain games or attractions that seem to attract more compulsive gamblers than others?
In general, it doesn’t matter what type of game a person gets addicted to; the focus must be on getting help for the problem. Just as it doesn’t matter whether the alcoholic drinks beer or wine–they still need help for their drinking problem.
When a person realizes that he or she has a gambling problem, where can that person turn for advice and guidance?
Many problem gamblers refuse to admit they have a problem and stay in denial until they hit bottom. Then they may seek help, often through our confidential 24/7 nationwide helpline (800-522-4700). We then refer them to resources in their area, which may include Gamblers Anonymous, Gam-Anon (for family members & loved ones), therapists, treatment centers and other self-help groups.
What are some of the most successful treatments for a compulsive gambling problem?
Currently, the self-help group Gamblers Anonymous, because it is the most widely used. Remember, few states have services for problem gamblers. Most insurance companies will not reimburse for problem gambling, so when a problem gambler finally seeks treatment, they are not likely to have the money to afford private treatment. There are several studies underway to evaluate various treatment approaches, including behavioral and pharmacological therapies.
What are some of the most interesting research findings that relate to problem gambling?
“Much like alcoholism, it appears to run in families.”
Much like alcoholism, it appears to run in families. Also, some problem gamblers use their gambling to escape and withdraw from their problems, while others use it for just the opposite, to stimulate and excite. Many problem gamblers are highly intelligent and outwardly hard working, well adjusted.
Has a relationship been found to exist between problem gambling and alcoholism, depression, or other psychological problems?
Yes. In general, about half of problem gamblers in treatment have or have had a substance abuse problem. Surveys of substance abusers in treatment show that roughly 30% have or have had a gambling problem. A majority of problem gamblers report depression. We are still researching how and why these complex disorders relate to each other.
Has any research been done to suggest the relative impact of the Internet gaming industry on problem gambling?
It will likely contribute in several ways. First, it will give current addicts yet another avenue to continue their gambling. Second, the accessibility and novelty may encourage new gamblers to lose control. However, just as technology will always be applied to gambling, the same technology can be applied to responsible gaming. Gaming sites should be encouraged to link to our site or other problem gambling sites. Self-quizzes can be instantly and confidentially administered, and problem gambling information disseminated widely. Software can be designed to monitor and limit wagers, deposits and withdrawals.
How do you feel about the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, and would such a law actually curb problem gambling?
The NCPG neither supports nor opposes the IGPA.
How much weight should be given to problem gambling as an issue when we appraise the casino industry or propose legislation to regulate it?
It is the single most important issue facing the gaming industry. No analysis of gaming can be complete without acknowledgement of the impact of problem gambling. We must work together to develop adequate policies to address problem gambling. But this is not just the responsibility of the gaming industry. Government has a great responsibility as well, especially in states that promote gaming and collect the revenue, but do nothing for problem gamblers. Finally, the gambler must take individual responsibility for their actions.
Is enough being done to tackle problem gambling? Can you suggest any steps that the land-based or the Internet gaming industry should take to further promote responsible gaming?
“Every gaming company should also have a self-exclusion policy.”
Although some companies have made considerable strides, the progress is still very uneven. First, it is important to adopt a formal responsible gaming policy, and ensure employees and management are clear about the scope, intent and execution. Then, implement the policy through public and in-house signage, employee training and other HR programs. For example, companies who conduct gaming should ensure their human resources/EAP programs are specifically equipped to handle employees with gambling problems. Every gaming company should also have a self-exclusion policy, whereby customers can request to revoke all cash checking, credit and slot club privileges, and removal of their names from marketing and promotional lists. Find reputable, problem gambling-specific organizations to provide expert advice, specific training or special services, such as treatment or intervention.
About Keith S. Whyte
Keith S. Whyte has served as Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling since October 1998. Previously, Keith served as Director of Research for the American Gaming Association, and has worked in the American Bar Association’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, where he dealt with legal issues relating to civil rights, human rights, healthcare, and immigration policy. Keith has written numerous articles, studies and book chapters on various aspects of gaming policy, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on gambling legislation. Keith is a member of the Editorial Board of the Gaming Law Review and the Report on Problem Gambling, a reviewer for the Electronic Journal of Gambling Issues, and serves on the Advisory Board of the International Centre for the Study, Treatment and Prevention of Youth Gambling Problems.
About the National Council on Problem Gambling
The National Council on Problem Gambling (http://ncpgaming.org) aims to increase public awareness of problem and pathological gambling, expand availability of treatment for problem gamblers and their families, and encourage research and programs for prevention and education.
The NCPG administers several nationwide programs, including a 24-hour confidential helpline, a gambling-specific certification program for treatment professionals, and sponsors the Journal of Gambling Studies, the only academic journal in the world devoted to problem gambling research. The National Council on Problem Gambling is a tax-exempt, non-profit organization that maintains a neutral stance on gambling. The organization’s 24-hour, confidential national helpline: 1-800-522-4700