Finding the Women who Become Problem Gamblers

ith the proliferation of gaming options throughout the United States over the past decades — from Atlantic City to tribal casinos to the racino boom and now, to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on sports betting — gambling has evolved into something acceptable in society. Yet problem gambling remains an issue for about 5 percent of the adult population.

While women have always been gamblers, there is still a large gap in understanding female compulsive gamblers, and the consequences of compulsive gambling for women. Older research suggested that men gambled more than women, while women were more likely than men to develop a gambling addiction. However, with the growth of legalized gambling and changes in cultural roles for females, more women gamble on a regular basis. This suggests that there are many more women becoming potential gambling addicts than at any previous time in history. It is imperative to explore how these societal changes are affecting the social, economic and legal consequences of gambling for women.

What was previously understood as an impulse control disorder, is now, according to the American Psychological Association, a behavioral addiction. Gambling is currently the only behavioral addiction listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is characterized by the compulsive, repetitive process that a person cannot control or stop regardless of the negative consequences. Like drug and alcohol addiction, gambling addicts experience a dangerous cycle of focus on gambling and the money needed for gambling at the expense of everything else in their lives.

And like with substance abuse, gambling addictions may lead to criminal activity. In fact, it is so prevalent that committing an illegal act was taken out of the diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder and instead seen as a natural progression of the severity of the addiction.

At UNLV Special Collections and Archives, I am researching a variety of sources that highlight how there still is a lack of understanding of female gamblers, and a large gap in understanding the potential criminal consequences of compulsive gambling.

Although pioneer researchers in problem gambling all surmise criminal consequences, few researchers have tried to understand the experiences of those whose gambling has resulted in a criminal record. The research I am doing in Special Collections focuses specifically on the lives women who have become involved in the criminal justice system due to gambling. My upcoming colloquium and paper as an Eadington Fellow for the Center for Gaming Research will look at our current understanding of compulsive gambling through a gendered lens, and share results from my research on the social, economic and legal consequences of gambling.


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