Gambling Addiction Think Tank Considered

8 December 2004

LAS VEGAS -- A casino industry trade group is exploring creating a global think tank on gambling addiction that would involve alliances between research institutions worldwide that specialize in addiction studies.

The American Gaming Association, through the National Center for Responsible Gaming, is discussing the formation of a single group that would meet at least once a year to share research, establish an international research agenda and work toward a single treatment approach that works best for people with gambling problems.

The National Center for Responsible Gaming is a casino-funded nonprofit that promotes awareness of problem gambling and raises money for research. The group is made up of officials from major gaming companies as well as health care providers, researchers and treatment experts. An advisory board of the NCRG, which is separate from its board of directors, intends to discuss the think tank when it meets about three months from now.

The NCRG hasn't yet determined where the global group would meet or who would participate. In many cases researchers aren't sharing information on parallel or duplicative studies, NCRG representatives said this week at the group's annual Conference on Gambling and Addiction in Las Vegas. In other cases, researchers aren't aware of various studies that have been completed or are under way, meaning their own work is less efficient, they said.

Gambling addiction is a concern everywhere, while research in various countries shows similar rates of compulsive gambling, MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said at the conference.

At least one researcher at the conference said he supports the sharing of data.

Alex Blaszczynski, chair of psychology at the University of Sydney in Australia, said a global group can better identify key research institutions around the world and direct a steady supply of funding toward long-term research. Much government-funded research is scatter-shot because it involves a one-time grant to study a particular topic without funds for follow-up, he said.

"There are consistencies around the world," on gambling research, he said. "We need a systematic, long-term research strategy."

Blaszczynski has conducted research funded by the Australian casino industry and is a founding member of the Australian National Council for Problem Gambling.

Researchers also said there needs to be better collaboration between casinos, clinicians and casino regulators, who are often faced with difficult decisions without the luxury of time to examine or conduct thorough research on gambling problems.

Without naming specific states or countries, experts also criticized governments for not devoting more money to fund problem gambling treatment.

Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has a serious gambling problem, with the rate of addiction rising slightly as gambling spreads, said Howard Shaffer, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and director of the school's Division on Addictions.

"We have a moral and social obligation to care for people in our society who are unfortunate," said Shaffer, an NCRG board member who has cooperated with researchers from other countries on individual research projects. "People at risk also deserve our attention."

Shaffer said involving all stakeholders serve to establish checks and balances in the research and regulatory process.

"I believe the industry and researchers can work together," he said.

Feldman said the industry is still fighting a public perception that casinos generate the greatest share of their profits from compulsive gamblers.

"At the end of the day, problem gamblers are bad customers. They don't pay their bills," he said.

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.