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The Science of Responsible Gaming

NCRG continues to be the leading organization examining problem gambling

The Science of Responsible Gaming

Frank Fahrenkopf, Member of the First Republic Bank Board of Advisors. USAGE: As per 2009 contract between Jamey Stillings Photography, Inc. and First Republic Bank. Photo ©2009 Jamey Stillings, All Rights Reserved.

Earlier this year, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of one of the industry’s most important commitments. In January, the American Gaming Association released a revised Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming, reflecting the evolution of the gaming entertainment industry during the last decade.

Responsible gaming is a key imperative in our business—one that we take very seriously.

While all aspects of the code are important, one essential priority that has remained true over the years is the AGA’s ongoing support and promotion of research-based policies on responsible gaming. Letting science guide our efforts to inform and educate our communities is an important aspect of developing relevant and appropriate responsible gaming programs.

Among other initiatives, one of the key ways our industry fulfills this provision of the code is by providing funding for the National Center for Responsible Gaming. Since the NCRG’s beginning nearly 17 years ago, the gaming industry has generously committed almost $25 million to fund innovative research and public education programs that make an impact.

This extensive support of the gaming industry has led to groundbreaking work, ultimately redefining the field of gambling disorders. In fact, NCRG funding has resulted in a number of “firsts” in this area of research, including the first reliable statistics of how many people who have a gambling disorder in the U.S. (approximately 1 percent of the adult population) and the first national survey of gambling on college campuses.

NCRG-funded researchers also developed the first framework for understanding gambling disorders as a public health issue—a framework that we use in our responsible gaming programs and community outreach.

Another “first” will happen later this year. Thanks to NCRG-funded research results, the organization will launch the first-ever online brief screening and intervention tool to help college-aged adults determine whether or not they want to seek help for any problematic gambling behavior.

A main contributor to our better understanding of gambling disorders and responsible gaming comes through the research of the first NCRG Centers of Excellence in Gambling Research. In 2009, the NCRG realized that substantial, multi-year research grants are the most effective ways to produce foundational research on this issue. When the NCRG named the Centers of Excellence at the University of Minnesota and Yale University that year, the organization had only a small idea of the immense impact these research grants would have on the field and on our industry’s understanding of this issue.

As they finished their three-year grant agreement in 2012, the final reports for these NCRG Centers of Excellence show tremendous results. The NCRG Center of Excellence at the University of Minnesota developed a model that potentially detects and treats youth who are susceptible to risky behaviors, such as pathological gambling.

Through neurobiological studies, researchers showed that a hallmark of gambling disorders is poor decision-making abilities that could be rooted with neurological problems in the frontal parts of the brain. The NCRG Center of Excellence at Yale has also made unique discoveries that have an impact on early prevention and treatment efforts for gambling disorders, especially youth gambling. This month, the NCRG will announce the next round of NCRG Center of Excellence grant awardees, and I’m excited to watch their progress over the next three years.

As an industry, how we understand gambling disorders impacts our daily business operations. It is essential that we understand the disorder and those who suffer with the addiction. We need to be aware of the science and its implications for our employees, patrons and the greater community.

One issue of great importance to the NCRG, as well as the clinical and research communities, is the highly anticipated release of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in May. You may have seen some articles in the New York Times and Washington Post regarding how this publication’s revisions will influence diagnostic issues for mental health disorders, especially for autism. It also will have an impact on the field of gambling disorders.

For clinicians and researchers, the DSM is a key reference book that contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. The manual’s diagnostic criteria are used by clinicians to report disorders to insurers for reimbursement, and practitioners use this guide as a basis for treatment options for those who are


It is imperative for the industry to know of the changes that the DSM-5 holds for problem and pathological gambling. First, the manual will reclassify pathological gambling as an addiction, and will officially change the name of “pathological gambling” to “gambling disorder.” These changes may have a range of implications, including a possible increase in insurance coverage of treatment for gambling disorders.

One last change that is included in the DSM-5 is that it reduces the number of criteria one must have to be diagnosed with the disorder, and some have been concerned that this change will increase the prevalence rates of gambling disorders. Researchers have started to analyze data from large national samples to see if this change has any bearing on the prevalence rate. Estimates are that it may raise the prevalence rate 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent, slightly above the scientifically proven rates, but that time will tell as more research is available.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see what

these DSM-5 changes and research findings for the new NCRG-funded research projects will yield for our industry. If the past is prologue, these updates will increase our knowledge of this addiction and help us to better serve our staff, patrons and communities with the best science-based information possible.

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