The editorial board of the Press of Atlantic City recently attempted to link New Jersey’s expansions of gambling to an increase in problem gambling rates cited in a Rutgers University research study released last year.
That’s not a good take, for a lot of reasons.
What the Press of AC wrote
To make its point, the editorial focuses on the problem gambling and gambling disorder rates from the Rutgers study:
“When Rutgers University’s Center for Gambling Studies last year released the first look at gambling in New Jersey since the state legalized online betting in 2013, it showed a 6.3 percent rate of gambling disorders among residents — triple the rate surveys of people elsewhere have found. Likewise, 14.9 percent reported gambling problems, again three times what’s seen in studies elsewhere.”
But that data comes with a major caveat. The Rutgers researchers note that methodology might be the cause of the discrepancy between its findings and the findings of previous studies.
The researchers used land lines and cell phones to collect data. But unlike previous problem gambling studies, they also used an online survey component. Because of this, the researchers cautioned against comparing their results with previous studies.
And for good reason. The telephone survey was in line with previous studies. The online survey (the new methodology) was where things went sideways.
The online panel sample reported a rate of 10.5 percent for disorder and 21.6 percent for problem gambling. Disordered gambling in the telephone sample was 0.3 percent lower than previous studies. The problem gambling rate was about average, 5.7 percent, nearly a quarter of what it was in the online survey.
Gambling expansion and rises in problem gambling
In addition to methodology, it’s important to note expansions of gambling can cause small, short-term increases in problem gambling rates.
Previous research introduces the possibility that casino expansion might cause a short-term rise in problem gambling, but those increases will return to pre-casino levels as the population adapts to the new form of gambling.
A study by Dr. John Welte of the University of Buffalo didn’t find any correlation between access and increased problem gambling rates.
Welte, who previously linked problem gambling to proximity to land-based casinos, found problem gambling rates flat over the past decade.
“It may be due to the economic downturn we experienced starting in 2008, which resulted in a decline in casino business,” Welte said. “It also could be due to the ‘theory of adaptation’ — that while initial increases in exposure to gambling venues lead to increases in rates of problem gambling, a population will eventually adapt and further negative consequences will not continue.”
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Funding is the answer for problem gambling
Interestingly, the existence of the Rutgers study tears down one of the key pillars of the editorial:
“As a leader in legal gambling, New Jersey bears a responsibility to be a leader in mitigating the serious problems caused by these massive generators of state revenue…
“Failing to use a small fraction of its gambling revenue battling this addiction is less forgivable for New Jersey than its infamous diversion of tobacco settlement funds to uses other than smoking prevention. The state didn’t initiate and encourage smoking, but it did promulgate gambling and continues to promote it.”
We can all agree problem gambling is severely underfunded, but New Jersey is actually taking steps to rectify that.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement commissioned the editorial’s cited study as part of the regulatory body’s ongoing research into problem gambling. The study is funded by an annual $250,000 responsible gaming stipend each online casino operator in the state is required to pay.
In the end, New Jersey, and states like Massachusetts are making tremendous progress on the responsible gaming front and in mitigating potential negative consequences of expanded gambling.