Do More Casinos Mean More Problem Gambling?

Often, Indian casinos are seen through a lens focused purely on economic and community development. More often than not, that lens distorts the reality of Indian casinos and their impact on federally recognized tribes. Typically, mainstream perspectives converge around a new stereotype — the “rich” casino Indian. Yet, in reality, Indians made wealthy by gaming remain an exception to the rule.

Regardless, focusing directly on the economic successes and failures of Indian casinos wholly ignores the social impacts they have on tribes. With March bringing Problem Gambling Awareness Month into focus, Partnership With Native Americans is taking the opportunity to explore an often-overlooked aspect of casino impact on reservation communities.

Casino ChipsIn the years since the 1988 passing of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 243 federally recognized tribes (out of 566) in 28 states ventured into Indian gaming operations. With this, gambling opponents raised concerns about casinos fostering an environment prone to gambling addiction — specifically within reservation communities already struggling with socio-economic issues. Interestingly, the prevalence of problem gambling has remained about the same, nationally, since 1976, when only one state had legalized gaming.

One can conclude from this that Indian casinos (or casinos, in general) are not directly linked to rates of problem gaming. In fact, recent research suggests the rate of problem gaming has increased among Native Americans, less due to the availability of casinos, and more connected to the mentality of the individual. Problem gambling among Native Americans is attributed to cultural beliefs in luck or fate mixed with “…variables, such as low economic status, unemployment, increased alcohol use, depression, historical trauma, and lack of social alternatives.”

Tribal administrations conduct gaming as a way to carry out their self-governance as sovereign nations, and gaming tribes are quick to invest in behavioral and social programs for problem gambling. Tribes in the state of Arizona, for instance, have signed a pact with the state to share revenue in support of prevention and treatment of problem gambling and to assist the Arizona Department of Gaming, investing more than $2 million in 2007, alone.

Partnership With Native Americans is proud to support nearly 20 behavioral health programs located on the Northern Plains and the Southwest reservations we serve. These programs offer important services focused on prevention, treatment, addiction, recovery, mental health and behavioral health skills. Understanding that problem gambling is not directly connected to the presence of casinos, PWNA’s behavioral health partners play a critical role in addressing the underlying causes of gambling addiction in reservation communities.


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  1. Posted July 8, 2016 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Gambling involves risking something of value on an uncertain event in hopes of winning something of greater value.
    With so much money to be made if a casino is built, it’s no surprise that the health effects of increased gambling receive short shrift in the media compared to news of intense lobbying activities.

  2. Posted January 2, 2018 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Very nice blog. Im completely agree with this. good info.

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