People in poor neighborhoods are twice as likely to have gambling problems

The poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling, according to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

Based on representative telephone interviews with nearly 5,000 people, ages 14 to 90, in the United States, the study found that problem gambling was twice as likely in neighborhoods with the highest levels of concentrated poverty compared to neighborhoods with the lowest poverty levels.

The study was published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions last June.

In areas with the highest “neighborhood disadvantage” – determined by census factors such as the percentage of people who were unemployed, received  public assistance, and/or live in poverty – more than 11 percent were problem gamblers, compared to just 5 percent in neighborhoods ranking in the top fifth of economic advantage.

“We found that neighborhood disadvantage had a substantial effect on problem gambling, even after controlling for a person’s socioeconomic status, age, gender or race,” says Grace M. Barnes, PhD, RIA senior research scientist and first author. “We also controlled for the convenience of gambling opportunities in these neighborhoods, and our findings were unchanged.”

Further, individuals with the lowest socioeconomic status in the poorest neighborhoods were at greatest risk for gambling problems.

Problem gambling was determined by a number of symptoms, including gambling with increasing amounts of money, repeated unsuccessful efforts to control or stop gambling, and preoccupation with gambling activities. Types of gambling included casinos, sports betting, horse or dog racing, lotteries and online gambling, as well as raffles, office pools, charitable gambling, pulltabs and bingo.

People in poor neighborhoods are twice as likely to have gambling problemsThe authors speculated on a number of reasons why gambling is worse in poorer neighborhoods. “It may be that people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods do not see many role models of financial success achieved through conventional means,” says John W. Welte, PhD, RIA senior research scientist and a study co-author. “Therefore, gambling may be viewed as one of the few opportunities for financial advancement, and perhaps provides the lure as a means for easily gaining money.”

In addition to Barnes and Welte, the study’s other co-authors, both at RIA, are Marie Cecile O. Tidwell, PhD, project manager, and Joseph H. Hoffman, data analyst.

RIA is a research center of the University at Buffalo (UB) and a national leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse issues. RIA’s research programs, most of which have multiple-year funding, are supported by federal, state and private foundation grants. Located on UB’s Downtown Campus, RIA is a member of the dynamic Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and helps promote UB’s strategic focus on research initiatives.

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2 thoughts on “People in poor neighborhoods are twice as likely to have gambling problems”

  1. Judging by the brief summary and the percentages quoted, this looks like a PGSI or DSM-IV type screen was used but that the diagnostic threshold for problem or pathological gambling was not used. It looks like this is a measure of those “at risk” of problem gambling.

    This is fine of itself but it is not what the headline says. Did the increase in poorer areas appear amongst those that met the definition of Problem Gambler?

    I suspect the increase was nowhere near “twice” for those meeting the diagnostic criteria. The reason being that many of the questions that deliver a single or a couple of concerning answers are far more likely for the poor – lying about their gambling to a loved one, feeling guilty about the amount spent, having conflicts with loved ones about gambling, seeking financial help from others…..the poor are far more likely to trigger one or two of these questions, it does not though mean they meet the diagnostic criteria for being a problem gambler.

  2. This reality saddened me. These people from poor neighborhood should be guided by gambling organizations (may it be small or large) for more legal betting. They need a clearer understanding about gambling which is to be viewed as opportunity for financial advancement and not for wasting money. I am personally fascinated by the entertainment and profit gambling can bring to people.

    Check out the games at

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