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 Problem Gambling in Las Vegas

Study pinpoints prevalence of problem gambling

By David Strow  LAS VEGAS SUN   May 24, 1999

New research at UNLV indicates 6.6 percent of Clark County residents are pathological or problem gamblers, and more than half of those living here know at least one person with a gambling problem.  And there's more evidence that problem gambling is taking its financial toll in Las Vegas. The top local executive for Consumer Credit Counseling Services said that 13 percent of bankruptcy petitions she reviewed last August listed gambling debts.

The UNLV study, derived from 15 years of polling conducted by the school's Center for Survey Research, also showed that about 20 percent of county residents said they had at least one family member afflicted with problem
gambling. Though widespread, the study found that these numbers have remained fairly consistent over the past two decades.

"In every fifth house on the street, someone in there is struggling with this problem," said Las Vegas psychologist Robert Hunter, who has studied problem gambling in Nevada for nearly 15 years. "And in every fifth one of
those, someone is contemplating suicide tonight."

Estimates of the extent of problem gambling have varied widely, and no recent study has definitively estimated its extent in Las Vegas. One widely cited 1997 study, conducted by the Harvard School of Medicine and funded by
the gaming industry, said the rate was 1.14 percent among all American adults. But gambling industry opponents cite studies indicating 13.2 percent of people who gamble exhibit symptoms of problem gambling.

"There's been some misleading information ... (the gaming industry) is being told, 'Don't worry, it's only 1 percent,' " Hunter said. "I don't think it's on its way to 60 percent, but we need to take it seriously." Hunter, UNLV researcher Bo Bernhard, Las Vegas social worker Gary Dymek and CCCS President and CEO Michele Johnson presented their findings at a meeting last week of the Las Vegas chapter of the Nevada Society for Certified Public Accountants.

Bernhard, a UNLV doctoral candidate, is currently finishing the university-funded study, which he is conducting for his dissertation. In a number of surveys, 52 percent of respondents said a co-worker was a problem gambler. About 40 percent said a close friend had a gambling problem. Bernhard acknowledged that the actual number of problem gamblers may well exceed the 6.6 percent indicated by the study, because the surveys only
accounted for those who admitted having a problem…
Bernhard, a fourth-generation Las Vegan, was stunned by the results."We always believed if you live here, you don't gamble," Bernhard said. "That was what I expected to find when I started, but the numbers blew me away. This is a significant problem affecting my hometown."

The results will be officially published in national science journals in July…
 Nevada had 15,708 bankruptcies in 1998, one for every 39 households in the state. That's the highest per-capita rate in the nation, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. Nationally, the per-household bankruptcy rate was one in 68 in 1998… Nevada's bankruptcy rate rose 17 percent in 1998, compared to 2.7 percent for the nation as a whole.