KENAI – Alaska may not have racetracks and casinos, but the state isn’t free of the social impacts of gambling, say psychiatrists who study gamblers’ behavior.
Municipalities and nonprofit organizations can run bingo parlors, sell pull-tabs or hawk lottery tickets on such natural events as breakup on the Tanana River. Such activities may seem innocuous, but betting, periodically reinforced by winning, can grow to pathological addiction for some.
In Alaska, the rate of addiction to gambling may be higher than it is nationally, said Dr. Charles Burgess, medical director of the Homer Community Mental Health Center and former head of the Department of Psychiatry at Providence Hospital. Nationally, about 1 percent of Americans meet the definition of a pathological gambler. A further 2 percent are problem gamblers whose symptoms are less severe, but still have a big impact on their lives, psychiatrists say.
“The percentage is higher in Alaska because of the wide availability of pull-tabs, and no one is paying attention,” Burgess said. “It is culturally accepted, especially in the lower-income population, to go and spend money on pull-tabs.”
The affliction can strike across all levels of society, as shown by the recent revelations about the gambling activity of former U.S. education secretary William Bennett.
Unlike alcohol or drug addictions, where friends and family members often detect problems early on, a gambling addiction can be a silent predator, Burgess said. In Bennett’s case, he lost up to $8 million, yet his wife said she was unaware of the situation.
“I’ve had gambling patients for whom the stories are horrendous,” Burgess said.
Alaska’s most ubiquitous form of gaming, the pull-tab, are not welcome everywhere.
In McGrath, pull-tabs have been banned since the early 1990s. Prior to the ban, a public radio station there supported its operations with bingo and pull-tabs.
“In a town of about 500, we were netting about $100,000 a year from a one-night-a-week bingo game in the city hall,” said former station manager Will Peterson, now of Anchorage.
PARTICIPANTS WANTED FOR GAMBLING RESEARCH
Researchers at the University of Iowa are seeking people to participate in a study on combatting compulsive Dominoqq gambling.
Some form of legalized gambling now exists in every state except Hawaii and Utah. Most adults gamble responsibly, according to Kelsie Forbush, clinical trial coordinator, but with the proliferation, more people are developing pathological gambling — gambling that is out of control and leads to personal distress and/or marital, legal and financial difficulties.
Individuals with this problem are invited to participate in a U of I Health Care treatment study. The study will examine the effectiveness of the drug bupropion in treating pathological gambling. Some participants may receive a placebo.
Participants must be age 18 or older and cannot be depressed or abusing alcohol or drugs. Participants must be able to read and write English. Women must not be pregnant or planning to get pregnant during the study period.
Study participation involves a total of nine visits to the school over three months. The first visit includes a physical examination. The follow–up visits involve assessment of the participant’s gambling and other problems as well as a discussion of the medication and its side effects. Compensation will be provided.
The study, which received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, is being led by Donald W. Black, M.D., Iowa professor of psychiatry.