Do Problem Gambling Statistics Lie?

by Oct 22, 2018Opinion Pieces

I’ve long believed problem gambling statistics to be vastly under-reporting the number of problem gamblers. With this post, I hope to explore the topic and will continuously update this post as I learn new things.

First Things First

I’m not a researcher and I do not know the steps taken when gathering the data for problem gambling statistics. Furthermore, it’s not so much that that statistics “lie” as much as they don’t tell the whole truth. A “white lie” of omission might be a better way to explain it.

NOTE: This is a place I’m going to begin to jot down my thoughts in order to get feedback and I’ll be continuously updating this post. If you are and can fill me in on how I’m wrong, I’d love to hear from you.

Sampling Bias

One thought I have on why I believe the number of problem gamblers to be under-reported is a simple sampling bias. My personal experience and years of getting to know other problem gamblers has led me to realize that we almost never seek out help until we have exhausted all other options. Even then, many still go the route of personal therapy vs group therapy like GA.


Shame & Stigma

The most obvious reason for lying about our addiction—and therefore avoiding being counted—is to avoid the shame and stigma of a gambling problem. Not only is there no incentive to being counted in the statistics, but there is an internal need to lie in order to keep “our secret”.

Ability to Hide

In addition to shame and stigma, hiding a compulsive gambling problem is much easier than other addictions which we have come to recognize the traits and behaviors of the individual.

Therefore, unless you can see a complete financial picture of the individual, you might not be able to see the problem.

As proof, most problem gamblers go years—and sometimes decades—before their spouses, family or friends find out about their issue. If we can hide it from those we interact with every day, how would a researcher be able to know?

And furthermore, what incentive would there be to tell them the truth?

Why This Matters…

Using inaccurate problem gambling statistics is important because they:

1. Impact Shame & Stigma

As humans, we all have a need to be connected to a larger group. When we are told we are part of a tiny group, we feel there is something deeply wrong with us that we might be stuck with. Knowing others deal with the same issue doesn’t change the addiction or the path out, but it makes it easier knowing others have struggled with the same issues and have found a way out.

2. Impact on Legislation

So long as the numbers show 1% of the population experiencing issues related to gambling, there will be little to no incentive for legislators to address the problem.

3. Impact on Funding

Why devote money to something that doesn’t impact many people? That will continue to be the question raised given the existing statistics on problem gambling.

4. Impact on Research

No legislation means no funding. No funding means no research. It’s a nasty cycle that will leave us continuing to make decisions based on limited or outdated research.