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Harvard Study on Problem Gambling

By: Fabian Rictor, Saturday July 23rd 2011
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Howard J. Shaffer of Harvard University is an acknowledged expert on problem gambling. Together with his colleague Ryan Martin, Shaffer has just published his latest research paper titled "Disordered Gambling: Etiology, Trajectory and Clinical Considerations" in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. The conclusions were that the incidence of problem gambling has decreased and that online gambling does not foster problem gambling. The Chicago Tribune interviewed Shaffer and reported in greater detail the findings of the problem gambling study.

Over the last 35 years there has been tremendous growth in land gambling. The incidence of problem gambling has, however, decreased from 0.7% to 0.6%. Shaffer told the Chicago Tribune that for an overwhelming majority of Americans gambling is an enjoyable but controllable activity. He also negated the view propagated by anti online gambling politicians and lobbyists that Internet gambling constitutes a greater risk of creating problem gamblers. Shaffer said, "People gambling on the Internet change from gambling more to less in weeks. We never would have predicted that. The extent of Internet gambling for most is astoundingly moderate."

In the interview with the Chicago Tribune, Shaffer revealed some very interesting conclusions of his studies on online gambling. Only 1% of the global gambling population had engaged in gambling online. There was no concrete evidence that exposure to online gambling increased their risk of becoming addicted. In the United States 0.6% of gamblers are currently classified as problem punters. Shaffer's studies have revealed that about 75% of these have addiction problems beyond gambling. And what is crucial is that the other addictions preceded the addiction to online gambling. Giving the break up of substance abuse prevalent among problem gamblers Shaffer stated that 75% had drinking issues, 38% had drug disorders and 60% had dependence on smoking.

Shaffer and Martin's recent research has added to the already extensive body of knowledge on problem gambling at Harvard. There is a two fold objective of accumulating this knowledge. The first is to enable better diagnostic and treatment regimes. The second is to foster a more balanced and considered view on problem gambling, based on fact rather than on politically expedient opinion or emotional anti-gambling rhetoric.

The works of Shaffer are by no means isolated. They corroborate the findings of other researches in the arena of problem gambling. It must be pointed out that quite a few of these researches have been sponsored by major online gambling groups like Bwin. But there are also studies assigned by regulatory authorities like the UK Gambling Commission, which have reported similar conclusions. The summary is that problem gambling is a disability with often tragic consequences. But it is not the runaway threat it is projected to be.

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