Whose Problem are Problem Gamblers ?

Central Statistic

Graphic by Dave Colavito, 2014 data from Grinols and Omorov 1996-97

On 24 April 2014  I sent to the Director for Policy,  Development and External Affairs of the NYS Gaming Commission the following  e-note with two attachments, one of which was   posted yesterday on the CAGNY web site below a copy of the April 24  cover e-note, repeated here.

Dear Sir,

Attached are two documents I earnestly hope the Chairman and all the Commissioners will read carefully and discuss with the  GFLB.  Both are about “problem gambling,” the subject of the April 9 forum convened by the Gaming Commission. Watching the videotape and reading the transcript (everyone should thank the GC for providing these so fast) I saw  that “problem gambling” was an elusive term.  The extreme importance to the casino economy of net losses from problem gamblers was nowhere mentioned except when the speaker from Caesars deflected  the issue.  Yet around the “central statistic of casino revenues,” on which I have written to the Commission, is the “central dilemma” of regulation: the better the regulation is at preventing problem gambling, the lower is the casinos’ profit margin.

Selected prevalence statistics were presented as if they are the be-all and the end-all of gambling behavior studies.  They are about all we have, but a poor stand-in for what we really want to know about time trends in social impacts, i.e.  incidence and duration.  Under the placid surface of what looks like stable prevalence,  much new damage continues; as problem gamblers recover or die, new ones must be recruited to take their places.

As I have offered before, I’m  [ready]  almost any time to meet with the Commissioners and staff to explain the critiques in more detail and to talk about “the central statistic.”

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely, etc.

Stephen Q. Shafer, MD, MA,  MPH Chairperson, Coalition Against Gambling in New York 917 453 7371 http://cagnyinf.org  [ Cover note ends here]

 

No surprise,  the Commission has not responded to these  unsolicited comments. Does that mean the Commissioners have all accepted the assurances (see below) of  the Executive from Caesars Entertainment that the organization does not make money from “problem gamblers” and does ” not want them in [their] venues?”  If yes, it is a monumental  mistake.  I cannot speak for Caesars Entertainment in particular, but it would  be unique  if it does not make money from what most people call problem gamblers To  wrongly  assume Ms Shatley’s artful  discounting  of problem gamblers fits all casinos  would be an easy stretch  to make,  even if Caesars is unique. It would be worse yet if the attitude “casinos don’t want problem gamblers” were communicated to the Gaming Facilities Location Board members.  The GFLB is charged to consider plans by applicants to address problem gambling. The Board must understand how important problem gamblers are to the casino exchange.

Below is the text of the second attachment  that was sent to the Gaming Commission  on April 24, slightly revised.  The text of the other attachment sent the same day  was posted yesterday on this web site along with the cover e-note.

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The Central Statistic of Casino Revenues

Central Statistic

The central statistic of  casino revenues gives the lie to assurances from casino promoters that they do not want, or need,   problem gamblers. In one line:

52 % of revenue at the average casino is the net losses of  “problem gamblers.”

The term “Problem gamblers”  as used above combines gamblers in two categories: what is now called “disordered gambling” (formerly called “pathological” or “addicted” or level 3); and those in what was formerly called “problem” or “subclinical pathological” or level 2).  There is no universally accepted name and unambiguous term for the combination, which was in the past termed by some “disordered gambling,”   by others “problem gambling.”  The combination  category is about  4 % of the adult population,   perhaps  10 to 15 %  of  casino users.  We recommend that “problem gambling” be kept as the portmanteau term for the combination.  We recommend that  persons whose lives are adversely affected by gambling but who do not meet  criteria for “disordered gambling” be called “at risk for disordered gambling.”

Nearly all the quantifiable socio-economic costs of legalized gambling,  more than $60 billion/year nationally ,2  move through this same 4 %  of adults who are “disordered”   or “at-risk-for-disordered” gamblers.   A program that reduced to zero the number of active disordered and at-risk gamblers and totally prevented formation of new ones would almost wipe away  the huge quantifiable socio-economic costs of legalized gambling, estimated at  $266 per year/capita adult  in the USA. 3

But,  that program would also reduce casino revenues by close on half.  Government’s share, based on taxing the total net losses of gamblers (“gross gaming revenue”), would drop by the same proportion.

The casino exchange exists only for profits.  Do you really think it would support in good faith a prevention and treatment program designed to cut its profit margin by half ?

Do you honestly think the state government would support in good faith a program whose complete success would mean a 50%  decrease in a budgeted revenue line?

Or, do you think the casino exchange and  government agencies would rather cooperate  to showcase  worthy  aims for “regulation” and “prevention  and treatment”  that might just fall short in practice ?

References

1.  Grinols, Earl L. and Omorow  J.D.  16  J. Law and Commerce 1996-97  p. 59 .  Details in appendix below.

2. The figure $60 billion comes from making low-side cost of living adjustments to convert 2003 dollars into those of 2012 and adjusting for population growth between 2003 and 2012.  The 2003 figures are on page 176-177 of Gambling in America by Earl L. Grinols (Cambridge University Press, 2004). This works out to about one-third the annual cost of illicit drug use.    https://www.drugfree.org/join-together/drugs/new-report-estimates-illicit-drug-use-costs-u-s-economy-more-than-193-billion-annually

3. http://cagnyinf.org/wp/gambling-economics-statistical-summary-by-prof-earl-grinols

Appendix:  What Proportion of Gamblers’ Net Losses to Casinos come from Problem Gamblers?  Brief  Review of  Five  Major Reports from the Last Twenty Years

Estimates of what proportion of casino gross gaming revenues derive from the approximately 4% of adults whose lives are adversely affected to varying degrees (“problem gamblers”) by gambling are not many.  The one most directly applicable to the average American casino is that of Grinols and Omorov.  Observations of  types of gambling other than physical casinos accord with Grinols and  Omorov in that  gamblers’ total net losses to a casino (also termed “gross gaming revenues”) have, like many other human activities, a Pareto distribution: the bulk of the output or the uptake   (e.g. consumption, volunteer work done) comes from a relative minority of the participants.

The casino exchange is wont to say that all such problem gambler statistics are wrong, that the biggest chunk of casino revenue is from wealthy “whales”  who  are not problem gamblers, just persons with a lot of discretionary spending money. That is all the rebuttal the exchange offers.

While “whales”  do exist, they do not frequent most casinos or racinos.  Casinos certainly have the information technology to respond with data to the above charges by opponents of predatory gambling, yet they do not.  To weigh in on this they would have to  acknowledge that they can identify all or most of the problem gamblers in their clientele.  This would open them to well-deserved criticism that they are not acting responsibly towards those persons.

Below, we review five documents related to the question of  % gambling revenues from problem gamblers, one each from United States, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Great Britain and Western Europe.

The next section, to the asterisks, is a continuous quote from page 59 of the article by E.L. Grinols and J.D. Omorov “Development or Dreamfield Delusions?: Assessing Casino Gambling’s Costs and Benefits.”  J. Law and Commerce vol. 16 (1996-1997) pp. 49-87.  The table has been re-formatted and footnotes removed.

“Table 1 provides a hypothetical profile of gambling revenues by type of gambler.

                           [table below]

Applying the terms “pathological” and “problem gambling” as

used by the psychology profession to the two groups losing the most to

casinos, we call those who have not gambled in a casino in the past year

“nonbettors,” and divide the remaining gamblers into “heavy” and

“light” bettor categories. Based on prevalence studies, we assume that

1.38 percent of the adults will be pathological gamblers  who lose an

average of $4,01328 and that problem gamblers lose one-seventh the

amount that pathological gamblers lose. This implies that 52 percent of

casino revenues come from the 4.11 percent of the population who are

pathological and problem gamblers.  In this respect, casino gambling resembles

alcohol of which 6.7 percent of the population consumes 50 percent

of all alcohol consumed. Allowing for the average adult to lose as

much as $200 annually to casinos in some areas would still mean that

more than 35 percent of casino revenues in those areas come from problem

and pathological gamblers.

 

The fact that the gambling industry is dependent on problem and

pathological gamblers for a large share of its revenues casts doubt on the

feasibility of treating pathological gamblers using industry tax revenues

to prophylactically prevent the externality costs of gambling addiction.

The treatment cost to the industry would be high, and these costs would

be in addition to existing taxes on gambling gross revenues that are already

high in many cases. Further, if treatment were successful in

preventing gambling by problem and pathological gamblers, it would significantly

reduce industry revenues. It is probably safe to conclude that

not everyone in the casino industry would willingly forego 35 percent or

more of their revenues.”  [emphasis added]

TABLE 1: Representative Distribution of Gambling Revenues by Type of Gambler

% of pop. designation annual loss annual loss cumul % of
per bettor $ per 100 adults $ casino gross
1.38 pathol. gambler 4013 5538 39
2.73 problem gambler 669 1826 52
5.89 heavy bettor 317 1866 65
50 light bettor 99 4970 100
40 non-bettor 0 0 0
100 total 14200 100

 

***********************************************************************

Figures in the table were computed by the authors  using information from  a 1992 report prepared by Deloitte  & Touche for the  City of  Chicago Gaming Commission:  ECONOMIC AND OTHER IMPACTS OF A PROPOSED GAMING. ENTERTAINMENT AND HOTEL FACILITY 137, 146, 147, 162

The Alberta study ( Williams et al)   two direct quotes

“ In 2008/2009 it is estimated that problem gamblers in Alberta account for 50% of all reported gambling expenditures, with that ratio being even higher for VLTs, slot machine and casino table games .”  Williams Robert J,  Belanger Yale, and Harris Jennifer N.  Gaming in Alberta  Final Report to the Alberta Gaming Research Institute 2011 p. 259

 

“A much more serious concern is that 75% of reported gambling expenditure comes from roughly 6% of the population. The most distinguishing feature of these individuals is the fact that 40.6% of them are problem gamblers. Overall, problem gamblers in 2008/2009 in Alberta appear to account for roughly 50% of all reported expenditure, a percentage that is even higher than previous Canadian estimates of between 23% – 36% (Williams & Wood, 2004; 2007). It is ethically problematic for governments and charity organizations to be drawing such a significant percentage of their revenue from a vulnerable segment of the population.”  [emphasis added]  Williams et al   op cit   Final Report to the Alberta Gaming Research Institute 2011 page 280

 

The Bwin study (Planzer, Gray and Howard Shaffer)

A study in Europe on internet gambling with casino type “games” authorized by the internet gaming company Bwin was reported on in an October 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal by Mark Maremont and Alexandra Berzon.   The investigators were Planzer,  Gray  and Howard Shaffer; their report is not yet published.  IThe WSJ article says that  3% of the 4222 customers tracked provided “half  the casino’s take.”  The  WSJ article did not say what proportion of the adult population the 3%  of the 4222 customers were.  Certainly it would be less than 3%, since only a minority of the adults do internet gambling.   The  article did not identify how many of the 3% were problem gamblers.  Safe guess it’s at least half.

Nova Scotia Video Lottery  (report by Focal Research)

A 470 page report on the Nova Scotia Lottery done by Focal Research [Schellink and Schrans principal authors] concluded that

“in 1997/98  5.7% of adults in Nova Scotia (approximately 38,750 adults) did most of the video lottery activity in the province and are contributing approximately $113,236,800, or approximately 96%, of the annual net revenue for video lottery gambling in the province.  Therefore, it can be assumed that VL   play behaviour differs significantly among those who are Casual VL Players and those who play on a regular, continuous basis and that these distinctions have significant implications, in terms of profiling VL gambling within the population at large.”

The Nova Scotia report (pages 3-42, 3-43) found that 55% of VL revenues were from “problem VL players,” who were about one-sixth  of the 5.75% of adults classed as “regular players” [defined as once a month or more].  Problem VL players thus comprised about .92% of adults.

The authors observe “It is obvious that success in helping Problem Players to reduce their expenditures will have a substantial impact on the total revenue Nova Scotia derives from VL play. If  Problem Players’ expenditure was similar to that noted for Frequent Players, there would be a reduction in total revenues from VL gambling of approximately 35% to 40%.

Using  the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey, James Orford (Univ Birmingham), Heather Wardle and Mark Griffiths derived a lower figure for % of gamblers’ net losses coming from problem gamblers: 23% at FOBTs [Fixed Odds Betting Terminals].  We note, however, that the prevalence of current problem gambling in this survey (0.9% by DSM –IV and 0.7% by PGSI criteria)  was much lower than the 2-4% figures from elsewhere.  This difference is more likely to be due to methods than to Britons’ being less vulnerable.  In this study, then,  23% of the FOBT revenues come from less than 1% of the adult population.  This ratio is even more skewed than what what Grinols and Omorov reported for “the average casino” (52% from 4%) .

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer,  Stephen Q. Shafer  MD, MPH, MA retired Clinical Professor of Neurology at Harlem Hospital Center, Columbia University , New York City.  He is Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York, a non-profit registered in Buffalo  http://cagnyinf.org    Permission is hereby given to quote in whole or in part as long as the permalink is cited and all citations to other work are correctly conveyed.

The graphic is by Dave Colavito.  He places no restrictions on use  but please attribute work to him.

The Albany Gambling Diet

albanydiet  The Albany Gambling Diet

Thoughts on Healthier Eating

by

David Colavito

 

 

 

     When you consider how injurious the socioeconomic consequences of state-sponsored gambling are, compared to its benefits, you have to ask why Governor Cuomo is promoting the expansion of casino gambling, let alone as economic development.  Sure, “gambling is already here” and “New York needs jobs” – neither is in dispute.  And used as they are to promote the Governor’s plan, they’re certainly appealing.  That’s the sweet side of half-truths many of us prefer to our vegetables.  But if Albany isn’t serving a balanced meal, it’s in our interests to understand why.  I’m suggesting it’s a failure of imagination. 

    The thesis has been with me for some time and came into sharper focus recently while reading False Idyll, an essay by J.B. MacKinnon.  Dealing with an unrelated topic, MacKinnon’s words struck me as eerily apropos to the social injustice inherent to the casino economy – “…  the way you see the world determines much about the world you are willing to live in …“ 

    And because I choose to be generous in spirit, I choose to believe Governor Cuomo’s promotion of the casino economy is rooted more in how he sees the world rather than in the belief he can make it better.  It’s an unfortunate conclusion, considering what life would still be like if others before him had constrained their own imaginations when confronted with the same choice on important public policy matters: emancipation and suffrage to name just two.

    And though you might argue Mr. Cuomo’s recent policy commitments to gun control and gay marriage render my thesis flawed, I’d respond by saying perhaps you’re correct, but unlike for example integration in the south, I don’t think either would have occurred without strong political winds blowing at Mr. Cuomo’s back.  Regardless, what really matters is the facts of the casino economy, their implications for social injustice, and Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to acknowledge either in his pursuit to fill state coffers.  All of which is also to say, his fixation on the gambling economy is apt subject material for an as-yet conceived book to be titled after MacKinnon’s essay.

    So, what might we imagine if enough people in Albany saw the world more through the lens of what it could be rather than the way it is?   Given that the majority of casino gambling revenue dollars come from the minority of gamblers with serious gambling disorders, would lawmakers continue to endorse expanding that predatory business model to increase state revenues?  And given the well-established relationship that increased opportunity to gamble produces more people with serious gambling disorders, would they continue promoting state policies that cultivate making people sick to balance budgets?  Or, might they instead work to formulate policies that mitigate the interstate impacts of gambling so often used to conscript state residents in a race-to-the-bottom casino economy?  I think we know what they’d choose.  And there’s also recent precedence for pursing equally important objectives.  Consider, for example, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Regardless of where you come down on the 2nd amendment debate, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t just believe in the need for federal gun policies that don’t undermine those of states; he’s a fierce advocate for them in Washington.

    Still shooting for the stars you say?  How about then just punting for the moon?  Albany could acknowledge a false premise it uses to pursue expanding the failed policy of state-sponsored gambling, though I suspect it isn’t spoken aloud there often.  It’s the keystone for the arch of my thesis – “we’re desperate; what else can we do if we don’t promote gambling?”

    The answer is, plenty. 

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No Place for Casinos

Dawn over Hudson River 12/25/2010DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Every week CAGNY (courtesy of our anti-gambling allies  at NYCF) distributes a one-page handout to the offices of all legislators.  In the  bulletin to legislators of March 5 (posted last week on this site as “Central Statistic”), we stated that it is the practice of the casino cartel, which gets  35-50%  of  its profits from out-of-control gamblers,  to foster  irresponsible gambling while pretending not to.  To learn how the fostering is done, read Addiction by Design (Natasha Schull, 2012, Princeton University Press). 

     This post, which will be the  CAGNY bulletin for March 12,   is not on that crucial topic.  It is  about the façade that gambling promoters (private and governmental) put up to look sincere and caring. Part of the act is token sums for research (e.g. to National Center for Responsible Gaming); also for secondary* and tertiary**  prevention to  good, small  advocacy agencies like the National Council on Problem Gambling.  [Most tertiary prevention in this country is provided by GA and Gam-Anon, both all-volunteer organizations.  Neither accepts any outside support. ]

     In New York State most of the meager (near-zero, now) funding to prevent problem gambling has come from legislative appropriations to agencies like Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).   Lottery and tribal casinos don’t contribute directly to statewide treatment and prevention. 

     If the constitution gets amended,  a legislator will surely  ask on behalf of OASAS and the NYS Council on Problem Gambling that some money coming  to the state from the new casinos go to “treatment and prevention of problem gambling.”   Likely some would, at least for a while.  How much, who knows?  Consider, though, that the revenues projected from casinos for 2016 have a much nobler-sounding destiny than treating gambling addicts.  They are supposed to be 90% “to support education”  and 10% to relieve property tax burdens.  If legislators must choose between allocating (say) $5M of the projected $150M  to counseling for problem gamblers or to “education,”  the addicts and their families will lose.  They always have.  Massachusetts announces intent to spend more than any other state. http://preview.tinyurl.com/ckkhy8p  Good luck, Bay State!

     Even if a huge revenue stream dedicated forever to treatment and prevention of problem gambling could be legislated, it would still be too little and too late to undo the mayhem of gambling. When do addicts enter treatment if not compelled by a judge?  When  they’ve  lost  everything.  Lives can be improved by treatment of  problem  gambling, but the clock does not run backwards.

     The best prevention of problem gambling is primary  prevention . A practical facet of this is an ecological strategy — no new casinos.  We have too many “slots”  now.  Vote  NAY on second passage.

     * This writer defines secondary prevention as keeping someone experienced in gambling who is not yet a problem gambler from turning into one (e.g. “Responsible Gaming” education, HOPEline signs). **Tertiary prevention is defined as steps (e.g. private counseling with or without 12-step program) to begin and sustain recovery from situations that meet at least some criteria for pathological or problem gambling.

    The opinions in this post are those of the writer,  Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH,  and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all members of CAGNY. Permission is granted to reproduce in whole or part while acknowledging the source using the permalink above.

“Treatment” and “Prevention” of Problem Gambling: 2 little, 2 late

4376727123_8fc3fb172dfrom flickr cc

4376727123_8fc3fb172dfrom flickr cc

photo retitled                                               “Contemplation”

Letter  to the Editor of Legislative Gazette, Albany NY,  published Feb 12 

To the Editor:                                                                             Feb 6 2013

Members of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York came to Albany on Feb 5 to express our views to legislators against amending the State Constitution to legalize “no more than seven casinos.”   We were heartened to see in the “Other Voice”  section  an article from the Syracuse Post-Standard  headed “Social cost of gambling outweighs revenue gained.”  It treats the proposed expansion of Quick Draw, but the header applies as well to the Governor’s proposal  for more casinos.  We hope it will resound in the corridors of power.

Page 8 has an article by the Gazette’s Josefa Velasquez about the efforts  of  Assemblymember Cymbrowitz to “address the potential dangers”  of  “increase[d ] gambling opportunities “ by “investment of resources”   “in programs  … effective… in reducing  … problem gambling, as well as evidence-based prevention programs that aim to reduce the risk of individuals engaging in addictive behavior.”  Mr. Cymbrowitz  is sincere in his desire to help, but we believe on the wrong track.  In Kansas, where for a population a tenth the size of New York’s the state allocates more than twice as much funding to  treatment and prevention of problem gambling,  a recent report concluded  that only 0.5 % of the estimated 24,000 pathological gamblers in the state were in a state-funded treatment program.   I note that  the 24,000 figure actually underestimates the prevalence  of  pathological and problem gambling combined.

Mr.  Cymbrowitz, in a hearing he convened 20 December 2012, stated that there are close to a million NYS residents with a gambling problem.  A witness at the hearing estimated that only 5000 individuals in NYS are in state-funded treatment currently.   5,000/1,000,000 = 0.5%.  If  treatment  in KS, with twenty times the per capita  allocation,  does not  penetrate deeper  than  it does in NY,  a responsible society cannot depend  on treatment of problem gambling , no matter how effective  it can be for individuals.  We must rely much more on an environmental strategy for primary prevention:  don’t expand gambling “opportunities.”   Our state has more than enough now. 

s/ Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH Chairperson Coalition Against Gambling in NY

PG Tx Enrollments FY12KansasStudy Kansas report

12-20-12 Alcohol and Drugs Transcript Assembly Hearing Trasncript