Expert Commentary

Young adult gambling links to drinking, drugs and prostitution

2010 study in UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal on young gamblers and propensity for risky behavior.

The stereotypical image of gambling is of the bright lights in Las Vegas and all the things that come with it — drinking, strip shows, drugs and high-risk behavior. Critics point out that the image is often further glamorized through entertainment media, and young people of course are more susceptible to such seductive representations.

A 2010 study in the UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal, “The Relationship Between Gambling Behavior and Binge Drinking, Hard Drug Use and Paying for Sex,” examined the actual correlation between gambling and other vices and the likelihood of regular young gamblers participating in marginal or deviant behaviors. The study used comprehensive health data from 6,145 young adults who were surveyed over time; the researchers focused on data from respondents when they were 22 years old on average.

The study’s findings include:

  • A significant proportion of the respondents said that they gambled at some point: 63% (3,865 individuals) said they played the “lotto”; about 50% (3,048 individuals) played casino games; and 43% (2,612 individuals) said they gambled in some other form.
  • By one measure, about 2.1% of respondents (129 people) exhibited signs of problem gambling.
  • Those classified as problem gamblers were, on average, 84% more likely to use hard drugs; 31% more likely to binge drink; and 260% more likely to hire a prostitute.
  • If individuals engaged in gambling outside of a casino, the probability that they used drugs increased by 30%.
  • Individuals engaged in casino gambling were 20% more likely to binge drink.
  • Casino patrons were 17% more likely than the average survey respondent to have paid for sex in the past year.

The authors note that the study “does not address the issue of why these behaviors are linked.” However, the researchers state that the findings indeed establish that “individuals who gamble, and more significantly, those who are more likely to be diagnosed with gambling problems, are more likely to also engage in these other [risky] behaviors.”

In related research, scholars at George Mason University and the University of Vermont compared counties in rural Colorado that were destinations for gambling and skiing. In their study “Casino Gaming and Crime: Comparisons among Gaming Counties and Other Tourism Places,” the researchers found that violent crimes and total arrests were comparable in ski and casino areas, and that “contrary to common perceptions … the average crime rate for total property crime was significantly higher in ski resort counties than in casino gaming counties.”

Tags: addiction, crime, drugs, gambling

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