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NCPG Head Discusses Problem Gambling

July 13, 2009

Keith Whyte has been the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) for eleven years. Prior to that, he spent three years as the director of research at the American Gaming Association. Hence he is eminently qualified to discuss issues related to problem gambling. Problem gambling is one of the issues that are acting as a hurdle to the legalization of online gambling. In an interview given to an online portal Whyte exploded several myths on the subject.

Whyte explained that current research has shown that problem gamblers are pathologically different from other people. This implies that the incidence of problem gambling has a genetic source and is not due to overexposure to gambling. The symptoms of problem gambling are latent in about 2 to 3% of the general population and they become manifest in about 1% of the general population.

Whyte also said that problem gamblers “share biological, physical, and genetic markers with victims of substance abuse”. There is a strong correlation between problem gamblers and those afflicted with substance abuse. Statistics reveal that that half of the problem gamblers have had a history of substance abuse, and 30% of substance abusers have exhibited problem gambling tendencies.

Another startling revelation from Whyte was that the extent of the compulsive gambling problem is independent of the form of gambling. This implies that players who buy lottery tickets are equally susceptible to problem gambling as are online players. This is the same in the case of alcoholics where the type of liquors does not affect the level of the problem.

Whyte explained that the gambler or his family has to first recognize that a problem exists. In order to facilitate that recognition the NCPG has developed a test of ten questions. If the answer to any of the questions is yes then the player should look on that as a warning sign. If the answers to more than five questions are yes then it is almost certain that a problem gambling condition exists. The questions seek to identify if the player has borrowed money to gamble or missed work in order to gamble and similar situations.

However the player after taking the self test should consult a professional counselor for a true diagnosis and treatment. Currently a two-pronged treatment is available. This consists of a combination of self-help and counseling. The rate of success is as high as 75%. In future chemical treatment may also be possible.

There was another issue that Whyte raised in the interview. He said that all forms of gambling should follow the kind of regime in place for online gambling. For example a lottery ticket could be bought without any age verification. He therefore advocated a “national approach” to problem gaming. The recently introduced Comprehensive Act on Problem Gambling was a needed step in this direction.

The NCPG does not take a moral stand on gambling. It only assists in the treatment of problem gambling. It has the largest problem gambling help-line in the world and last year handled more than 255,000 calls for help.

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