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UMass Amherst Research Team Analyzes Types of Gamblers, Risk Factors for Problems

The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) study research team recently presented deeper analysis of survey data on gambling and problem gambling to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at a recent meeting held in Boston.


[Photo from left: Drs. Rachel Volberg and Robert Williams]

Lead investigator Dr. Rachel Volberg, Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and her collaborator, Dr. Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada reported that in order of statistical importance, problem gamblers were significantly more likely to play daily lottery games, have more friends and family involved in gambling, be black, engage in casino gambling, be male, engage in online gambling, play instant lottery games, have other behavioral addictions, have lower educational attainment, be born outside the United States and have lower childhood happiness.

Drs. Volberg and Williams point out that the new analyses of the survey data “support the efforts of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the Department of Public Health to minimize and mitigate the impacts of casino gambling in the Commonwealth. The results will help these agencies target their efforts by identifying demographic, health-related and gambling-related predictors of at-risk and problem gambling among adults in Massachusetts.”

The original Baseline General Population Survey (BGPS) of 9,578 residents conducted in 2013/2014 described characteristics of non-gamblers, recreational, at-risk and problem gamblers before any casinos opened in the Commonwealth. Dr. Volberg’s new, just-published analysis focuses on identifying the predictors of membership in these groups. It intends to “inform the development of problem gambling prevention, intervention and treatment initiatives in the Commonwealth.”

Dr. Volberg and research colleagues at UMass Amherst and elsewhere received a multi-million dollar grant in 2013 to conduct a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive, multi-year study on economic and social impacts of introducing casino gambling in the state. The Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) team is examining a wide array of social and economic effects.

Their recent report looks at four separate but related analyses of BGPS data: differences between non-gamblers and recreational gamblers, between recreational gamblers and at-risk gamblers, and between recreational gamblers and problem gamblers. The fourth analysis examined predictors of level of gambling participation.

In a blog about the report, Dr. Volberg states that the analysis of differences between non-gamblers and recreational gamblers identified several variables that statistically predict gambling involvement. “Interestingly, the portion of friends and family that were regular gamblers was the strongest predictor in this analysis, with gambling involvement being associated with more friends/family involvement. Lower educational attainment, male gender, binge drinking, poorer health and tobacco use were also predictive of higher gambling involvement.”

She writes that these findings have important implications for problem gambling prevention in Massachusetts. “For example, the relatively few marked differences between non-gamblers and recreational gamblers suggests that efforts to prevent harm from gambling should be directed to excessive levels of gambling and at-risk gambling, rather than at gambling in general.”

Further, she suggests that gamblers’ social networks appear to be an important target for prevention, “given the strength of the role of friends and family that gamble as a predictor of non-gambling, level of gambling participation, at-risk gambling and problem gambling.” Several groups also merit special attention for prevention, including males, people with lower educational attainment, immigrants and African-Americans, she says.