April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Casinos seem to be springing up all over the country. However, a new study from the University of Iowa reveals that just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.
The study, published in the journal Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, examined how casino growth in the state of Iowa has influenced gambling by residents. The results suggest that fewer Iowans gambled overall, and that fewer people have become addicted to gambling. This is despite a recent spurt in gaming facilities. Introduced in 1991, there are currently 21 casino gambling facilities in Iowa. All but three are licensed by the state; the remaining three are owned and operated by Native American tribes.
Donald Black, a psychiatry professor at the UI who has been studying gamblers and gambling habits since the late 1990s says the findings could affect expansion plans by casino operators. How policymakers in Iowa who approve new casinos view adding more gaming facilities could also be influenced.
“It seems society reaches a saturation point beyond which additional gambling opportunities won´t capture more people,” says Black. “And that applies to problem gamblers, too. They all seem to adjust to it.”
The research team surveyed 356 residents in eastern Iowa who were 18 years of age and older. They asked participants about their gambling activity and the respondents were slotted according to the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS). SOGS is a known measure that ranks gambling behavior on a five-point scale, ranging from no problems to addiction.
The research team compared their results to similar studies completed in 1995 and 1989. The percentage of people who report not gambling has risen 83 percent, in contrast to 72 percent in the 1995 poll. The most recent survey also showed the percentage of non-gamblers was nearly as high as the 86 percent of Iowans who reported not gambling in the 1989 poll, which was before any casinos had been built in the state.
The percentage of gamblers with addiction problems — those who ranked highest on the SOGS scale — dropped in the most recent survey as well, from nearly 2 percent of participants in the 1995 survey to 1.4 percent in the current poll. This decrease is despite the doubling in number of casinos. In 1995 there were 10 casinos — including 3 racetracks that added slot machines that year, currently there are 21 casinos in Iowa.
The number of self-reported gambling addicts in the latest survey, however, was still higher than the 0.1 percent who claimed a problem in 1989. This increase suggests “casinos have had a great impact (on problem gamblers),” Black notes, “but it has stabilized.”
Further evidence that suggests Black is correct that the impact is stabilizing is that the percentage of residents who say they gamble occasionally — ranking 1 or 2 on the SOGS scale — has dropped to 14 percent from the 23 percent reported in the 1995 survey.
Black says the results for Iowa should hold true elsewhere. The basis for this study is a theory championed by Howard Shaffer of Harvard Medical School. Shaffer looked at the impact of gambling in Nevada and found that the number of gambling addicts was not disproportionately higher than other states.
The public’s fascination with casinos is like a child with a new toy, according to Black. They are interesting at first, but at some point they lose their novelty.
Iowa legalized gambling in 1975. First, the state allowed bingo. The state lottery followed in 1985, dog and horse tracks were added in 1985 and 1989 respectively, and then riverboat casinos were legalized in 1989. The first three casinos, located in Bettendorf, Dubuque and Davenport, opened in 1991. Last fiscal year, according to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the state collected $116 million from casino gambling.
This latest survey was conducted between 2006 and 2008 as part of a larger study of problem gambling. The Center for Social and Behavioral Research at the University of Northern Iowa collaborated with UI on the poll.