Harvard researchers to study Missouri's problem gamblers

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Harvard University research-ers are hoping to learn more about the characteristics of problem gamblers by studying people who have voluntarily signed up to be barred from Missouri casinos.

The study will focus on a 750-person sample taken from the more than 5,000 people who have voluntarily placed themselves on a state list of patrons permanently barred from Missouri casinos. The state program, which was the first of its kind nationally, has been in place since October 1996.

"The main thing is to find out what's happening with these people. If they went into treatment, did they stay away or did they relapse, which is very common," said Christine Reilly, executive director of Harvard's Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders.

Besides providing information to help shape problem- gambling programs in Missouri and elsewhere, the study "is definitely going to tell us something about the disorder, we have very few studies that look at all of the stages of the disorder," Reilly said.

Missouri's 11 casinos along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers generated $1.3 billion in gross revenue last year. The casinos' 18 percent revenue growth over the previous year marked the largest increase in the nation, according to the American Gaming Association.

Under the Missouri Gaming Commission's "voluntary exclusion program," people on the casino blacklist can be arrested for trespassing if caught at a casino, and casinos are barred from sending them marketing information, cashing their checks or paying them jackpot winnings.

State-sponsored voluntary exclusion programs also are now available for gamblers in Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and New Jersey.

The lists are just one aspect of the states' problem-gambler programs. In Missouri, for example, callers to 1-888-BETS-OFF also can be assessed for their potential suicide risk, referred to mental health counselors and directed to consumer credit counselors.

Melissa Stephens, who administers Missouri's problem-gambling program, hopes that by identifying the demographics of people on the voluntary blacklist, the study can help the program better target its promotional materials.

Funding for the $297,000 grant comes from the Kansas City Port Authority, which required Ameristar and Hilton casinos to contribute money to a problem-gambler fund as a condition of locating in the city.

The state also has contributed $50,000 to the fund and plans to contribute another $25,000.

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On the Net

  • Research institute: www.hms.harvard.edu/doa/institute

  • Missouri Gaming Commission: www.mgc.state.mo.us

  • American Gaming Association: www.americangaming.org

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