UNLV: US military problem gambling 3.5 times higher than general public

Research has indicated that problem gambling is 3.5 times higher among active military personnel compared to the general population.
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Research by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and Bowling Green State University has indicated that problem gambling is 3.5 times higher among active military personnel compared to the general population.

During the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) Conference on Gambling and Addiction in Las Vegas, Dr Shane W Kraus of UNLV’s Department of Psychology and Dr Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University revealed data on the problem gambling rate among a large sample of military personnel.

One of the first longitudinal studies of gambling in the military and funded by the Kindbridge Research Institute (KRI), the study of 3,050 US civilians, veterans, and active duty military showed the active military problem gambling rate was 68.6% compared with 18.7% among the general public.

Of the just 102 active military personnel who completed the survey as well, 70 of them screened positive for problem gambling.

“Our findings suggest that more comprehensive research is needed to fully understand how widespread the issue of problem gambling is among active duty personnel,” commented Kraus.

“Current trends in the data suggest there could potentially be many service members with unmet treatment needs for problem gambling.”

KRI is providing greater awareness, research, and treatment for US veterans suffering from problem gambling through its Military Research Associate Program (MRAP). 

MRAP helps veterans transition from military service to advanced mental health treatment and research training, working alongside its 50x4Vets project which aims to increase the treatment research rate for veterans with gambling disorders by 50-times in the next four years. 

Supported by donations to KRI from DraftKings and Playtech, the research data was collected as part of funding awarded to Grubbs and Kraus for their work on sports betting from the ICRG. 

Dr Nathan DL Smith, Executive Director of Kindbridge Research Institute, noted: “This really is a ‘canary in a coal mine’ moment. Because of the sampling method and small sample size, the rate of problem gambling in this sample cannot be generalized to the wider active-duty military community.

“However, the significant rate of gambling problems in active duty military is a major red flag and larger, more representative studies of active duty military are now vital to determine what the true rate of gambling disorder is in this population.”

KRI has stated that the US Department of Defense (DoD) operates over 3,000 slot machines on overseas bases, producing over $100m in annual revenue.

In a recent KRI review of the responsible gambling policies mandated by states and the DoD, the DoD was placed last out of 36 jurisdictions with legal slot machine gambling. 

Smith added: “Our review concluded that the DoD requires only one of the ten responsible gambling policies recommended by the American Gaming Association, while the average number of responsible gambling policies required in the other 35 states was just over seven.”

Military personnel suffering from problem gambling are also facing “a discouragement from seeking help”.

“Active duty military seek help for problem gambling at significantly lower rates than the civilian population,” said Smith.

“The reasons for this are likely complex, but a major factor may be that active duty military can face consequences in their career, including discharge, if they report a gambling problem to military medical staff.

“People with untreated gambling problems can get caught in a destructive cycle of negative feelings and gambling to escape those feelings, which leads to more negative emotions. In a situation where treatment is not available, these harmful spirals can cause significant damage to a person’s home life, career, mental health, and finances.

“In severe cases, a person in a negative spiral can exhibit suicidal behavior. In fact, in one study, 40% of US veterans receiving treatment for gambling problems reported a suicide attempt.”