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Editorial: Profile of a compulsive gambler

Compulsive gambling

Compulsive gambling, problem gambling, gambling addiction... Call it what you will, but whatever it is, it's a serious issue in today's gaming industry. Recent reports suggest that problem gambling, in general and across all demographics, is on the rise.

According to the most recent statistics from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), as much as 5% of the adult population exhibits the traits of a compulsive gambler with 1% exhibiting pathological gambling problems (aka gambling addiction).

How can you identify a problem gambler? As this article will show, no one is exempt from a gambling compulsion, though some groups are more affected than others.


Worldwide, men hold a slight majority in terms of self-identified gambling addictions, but a late 2008 study by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that the occurrence of problem gambling in the female population is increasing more rapidly than it is in the male population, and in several American states women are already the dominant demographic. The rising percentage of affected women is not due to a widespread behavioral change in women but rather is likely the result of their increased exposure to a hobby that was once largely restricted to men.


Whereas some addictions are clearly generational, compulsive gambling is one of the few conditions that is notably present in both the elderly and the young. There has been a significant spike in teen gambling problems in the last few years. Underage gamblers represent a large chunk of online compulsive gamblers, primarily because they can't indulge their compulsions in live casinos. In adults, the NCPG asserts that the most at-risk age group is 18 to 24-year-olds. Whereas major gambling destinations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City still attract a crowd that is largely 55 and under, at many local American casinos the regulars are overwhelmingly elderly.


Though compulsive gambling afflicts people of every income level (who could forget Ben Affleck's many disastrous gambling binges), studies have repeatedly shown that the lower a person's income is, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem. Gamblers living in a low income household are easily the most at-risk demographic, betting nearly three times as much as their middle class counterparts.


This is really common sense, but in terms of problem gambling the closer a player is to a casino, the more likely they are to develop compulsive gambling habits. That said, online casinos have made gambling accessible from virtually everywhere, making it hard for researchers to pinpoint specific geographical areas that may demonstrate a higher percentage of problem gambling.

Game of Choice

Generally problem gamblers have a pre-existing condition that predisposes them to developing a gambling compulsion, so it's hard to point the finger at any one casino game. That said, gambling problems have risen significantly since the introduction of video slots. Many experts believe that the speed of the game combined with the absence of a social control group makes it easy for players to bet more than they normally would at a slot machine. It stands to reason then that live, skill-based games like poker and blackjack attract far fewer compulsive gamblers.

Other Contributing Factors

People with depressed, reckless or impulsive personalities are often drawn to the ups and downs of gambling. According to the American Psychological Association, gamblers that already have another verified addiction or compulsion are several times more likely to develop a gambling problem. People experiencing severe stress or anxiety are also often attracted to gambling as they seek a quick distraction or easy solution to their overwhelming problems, which is why the current recession has created some of the biggest problem gambling spikes in history.

According to the NCPG, 85% of American adults will gamble at some point in their lives. The 5% of those adults that will develop a gambling problem seems pretty slim by comparison, but it's important to remember that those numbers are increasing every year. As always, we encourage our readers to play smart. If you suspect that you, a family member, or a friend may be a compulsive gambler, remember that there's always help available.

02-Jan-2010, 11:19

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