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Studies Show Pathological Gambling is Minimal in the U.S.

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor

                               Those opposing internet casino gambling are in an uproar over a Harvard research team’s findings in problem gambling. The gambling industry has donated $9.1 million dollars to the research of addictive gaming habits in the U.S., and anti-gamers are not satisfied with the results.


                Howard Shaffer of Harvard has put great effort into the research of addictive behavior according to an article by Oliver Staley in Bloombergs business news this week. The opposing side, however, has made accusations that his findings were biased because they were financed by the gambling industry in what is being called the “funding effect.”  “The casinos love the biological research because it points to the gambler as the source of the problem, rather than pointing to things like casino policy,” said psychologist, Henry Lesieur.


Shaffer’s research had found that less than 2 percent of American citizens are compulsive gamblers, which certainly puts a damper on the support for internet casino gambling bans. He notes that his resources included peer-reviewed journals which he had fully disclosed in his studies and that the casino companies had not intervened in his project.  “Good science is good science,” says Shaffer, “It is possible to do very good research independent of the funding. It is also possible to be swayed by funding. My job is to have integrity and I think we have it.” Shaffer links addictions to chemical substances and behavior with biological, psychological and environmental factors. One study showed that casino workers were more prone to gambling addictions, smoking and alcohol dependency and depression than the general public. Shaffer explains that this demonstrates the legitimacy of his research. Aside from this, mental health experts will tell you that gambling addictions are classified as an impulse control disorder that can be associated with several forms of addiction.

While claims are still made that these studies may be influenced by a pressure to appease universities that judge academics based on the amount of funding is brought in, Shaffer’s research is in complete compliance with Harvard’s guidelines for receiving such finances says David Cameron, a spokesman for Harvard.

Shaffer is an associate professor of psychology at in Harvard’s Department of Psychiatry as well as the director of the Division on Addictions. His research institute has been funded by more than $9 million from casino companies and slots-machine makers, with an additional commitment for $22 million. His research is crucial to the legalization of internet casino gambling.

The opposing side is quick to condemn Shaffer’s findings without having provided much evidence to show otherwise.  Government officials who justify gaming legislation with the argument that online casinos lead to problem gambling, especially in young people, may be responsible for these claims against Shaffer. With such a small percentage or compulsive gambling in the United States, the UIGEA has lost much of its clout. Whether or not this research will hold water in further court cases in support of internet gaming is yet to be seen. It goes without saying that regardless of how the gambling industry addresses compulsive behavior, critics will continue to frown upon games of chance.