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Gambling Call to Action Statement

The October 1, 2017 mass shooting event in Las Vegas was perpetrated by a man, who according to media reports, exhibited behaviors suggestive of a significant gambling problem.i  This tragedy raises important questions about gambling and its potential role in this particular disaster. Feelings of isolation, despondency, and suicide, mixed with (1) a perceived injustice, (2) a disregard for and violation of the rights of others, and (3) availability of lethal means to kill and injure a great number of individuals in a short amount of time, can result in disastrous events. A tragedy of this magnitude is rare, but human suffering is not. The relationship between suffering and gambling disorder is complex because suffering can lead to intemperate gambling and vice versa. We must learn more about gambling and its potential role in human suffering. 

We are writing this letter as a call for action. Our society does little to help those suffering from gambling disorder. Resources for gambling-related treatments and research are sparse.  The American Psychiatric Association classifies gambling disorder as an addiction and estimates that it affects about 1-3% of individuals from all walks of life. Harms include financial ruin for individuals and families, significant guilt and shame, disrupted social relationships, engagement in illegal behaviors, occupational impairment, despair, and suicide.  The impact of these harms is greater than the harms associated with many well researched medical and psychiatric conditions.ii Few with the disorder seek treatment,iii and the amount spent on publically funded outreach and gambling treatment across the nation is small ($73 million)iv compared to the billions of dollars our society spends on substance abuse treatment and prevention. 

The federal government does not programmatically fund research focusing on gambling disorder nor does it monitor the impact of gambling activities on society, despite the gambling industry generating approximately $100 billion in annual tax revenue for local, state, and federal governments.v  An additional $7 billion is generated from taxes on individuals’ gambling winnings.  Responsible gambling initiatives by the gambling industry are critical and need greater support and examination to ensure that patrons use their product safely as a form of entertainment and recreation. More could and should be done to understand, prevent and treat this condition by state and federal governments and by the gambling industry.

We call for three primary initiatives.

The federal government needs to programmatically conduct research regarding gambling and its mental and physical health consequences.

The federal and state governments and the gambling industry need to improve access to prevention, treatment and recovery services for gambling disorder. The points of contact for offering a range of services for gambling problems are underdeveloped.

For the gambling industry to make greater investment in identifying and validating responsible gambling initiatives.



i; accessed November 9, 2017.

 ii Browne, M., Langham, E., Rawat, V., Greer, N., Li, E., Rose, J.,… Best, T. (2016) Assessing gambling-related harm in Victoria: a public health perspective, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne. Retrieved from:

iii Slutske, W.S. (2006). Natural recovery and treatment-seeking in pathological gambling: Results of two US national surveys. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 297-302.

iv Marotta, J., Hynes, J., Rugle, L., Whyte, K., Scanlan, K., Shledrup, J., & Dukart, J. (2017). 2016 survey of problem gambling services in the United States. Boston, MA: Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators.

v American Gaming Association (2014). Gaming’s quarter of a trillion dollar impact on the U.S. economy.

vi Gebauer, L., LaBrie, R., & Shaffer, H. J. (2010). Optimizing DSM-IV-TR classification accuracy: A brief biosocial screen for detecting current gambling disorders among gamblers in the general household population. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(2), 82-90.

vii Schuler, A., Ferentzy, P., Turner, N. E., Skinner, W., McIsaac, K. E., Ziegler, C. P., & Matheson, F. I. (2016). Gamblers Anonymous as a recovery pathway: A scoping review. Journal of Gambling Studies, 32(4), 1261-1278.

viii Ladouceur, R., Shaffer, P. M., Blaszcynski, A., & Shaffer, H. J. (2017). Responsible gambling: A synthesis of the empirical evidence. Addiction Research & Theory, 25(3), 225-235.