by: NCRG Staff | Jul 6, 2011
What affects the prevalence of gambling disorders in a given area? Is it access to gambling activities in general, access to a specific type of gambling activity, demographic characteristics, local norms, the presence of an underlying addictive syndrome, or some combination of these factors and others? These questions have been asked for many years and have inspired much debate in both political and academic circles. Studying a question like this requires competent and willing researchers, but also a favorable situation for research.
Unlike clinical trials, people cannot be randomly assigned to live within a certain distance of a casino, to prefer a particular gambling activity, or to have some particular demographic trait. This limitation can be overcome by taking advantage of “natural experiments,” times when some variable in a community changes and researchers can isolate the effect that variable has on the prevalence of gambling disorders in the community.
One such natural experiment will take place in Maryland over the next several years with the legalization of slot machines. The results of the first study measuring baseline disordered gambling in the state has just been released to the public, and further studies will be completed over the next several years to assess the effect (if any) of the addition of slot machines to existing gambling opportunities (Shinogle, Norris, et al., 2011).