Gambling and Crime Among Arrestees: Exploring the Link

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice
Y 04
Research for
P r a c t i c e
Gambling and Crime Among Arrestees: Exploring the Link

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
810 Seventh Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20531
John Ashcroft
Attorney General
Deborah J. Daniels
Assistant Attorney General
Sarah V. Hart
Director, National Institute of Justice
This and other publications and products
of the National Institute of Justice can be
found at:
National Institute of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Partnerships for Safer Communities

Gambling and Crime Among Arrestees:
Exploring the Link
This Research for Practice
is based on a final report
submitted to the National
Institute of Justice,
Pathological Gambling
in Arrestee Populations
(NCJ 196677) by Richard
C. McCorkle. The final
report is available
electronically from the
National Criminal Justice
Reference Service Web
site, at http://www.ncjrs.
Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are those of
the author and do not reflect the official position or policies of the
U.S. Department of Justice.
This research was supported by National Institute of Justice grant number
99–IJ–CX–K011 awarded to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
NCJ 203197

R E S E A R C H F O R P R A C T I C E / J U L Y 0 4
Is there a connection between
? Nearly one-third of
problem gambling and crime?
arrestees identified as
Do compulsive or pathologi­
pathological gamblers
cal gamblers resort to crimi­
admitted having committed
nal activity to pay their debts
robbery in the previous
and finance their bets? To
year. Approximately 13 per­
examine the link between
cent had assaulted some­
problem gambling and crime,
one for money. Pathological
researchers interviewed
gamblers were much more
arrestees in Las Vegas and
likely to have sold drugs
Des Moines to probe their
than other arrestees.
gambling behavior and its
relationship to their crimes.
Limitations of the

What did the
researchers find?

The study was conducted
among arrestees in only two
Using the Arrestee Drug
U.S. cities—Las Vegas and
Abuse Monitoring (ADAM)
Des Moines. Las Vegas likely
Program as a survey vehicle,
has the highest level of resi­
researchers found significant­
dents and visitors who gam­
ly more problem gambling
ble of any major U.S. city.
among arrestees than in
Des Moines was chosen to
the general population. The
represent a midsize U.S. city
arrestees who were inter­
that had more typical levels
viewed had high levels of
of gambling.
criminal activity related to
pathological gambling.
Who should read this
? The percentage of problem
or pathological gamblers
among the arrestees was
Corrections administrators,
three to five times higher
drug and gambling treatment
than in the general
providers, State-level govern­
ment policymakers.

Richard C. McCorkle
Gambling and Crime Among
Arrestees: Exploring the Link

The spread of legalized gam­
been arrested and jailed or
bling in the United States
sentenced to prison. Their
over the past 15 years has
gambling and criminal prob­
sparked considerable political
lems may well be more
controversy, public debate,
chronic and severe than
and research (see “How Big
those of other subpopula­
Is Gambling?”). Many policy-
tions. And we know little
makers are concerned that
about the nature and conse­
widespread gambling, espe­
quences of their gambling
cially what social scientists
activities, or the extent to
call compulsive or pathologi­
which their gambling is relat­
cal gambling, will lead to
ed to the crimes for which
increased crime, drug and
they have been jailed.
alcohol use, and other social
or psychological problems.
They worry that gambling and
Exploring the
its consequences will destroy
individual lives, wreck fami­
lies, and weaken societal
To better understand and
institutions. Another concern
deal with the relationship
is that many compulsive or
between gambling and
pathological gamblers will
criminal activity, researchers
turn to drug sales or other
sought to answer several
crimes to finance their habit
questions about the arrestee
and pay their debts.
Unfortunately, what little we
? How many arrestees are
About the Author
know about the social and
compulsive or pathological
gamblers and how many
Dr. Richard C. McCorkle
psychological effects of gam­
pathological gamblers are
is associate professor at
bling is derived from studies
arrested for felony and mis­
the University of Nevada,
of treatment populations
Las Vegas, and chair of
or the general public. To
demeanor offenses?
the criminal justice
understand the relationship
department. He was the
Do compulsive or patholog­
between gambling and
director of the Las Vegas
ical gamblers fit any age,
crime, more needs to be
Arrestee Drug Abuse
gender, marital status, or
known about the gambling
Monitoring (ADAM)
other profile?
habits of people who have

R E S E A R C H F O R P R A C T I C E / J U L Y 0 4
? How does the criminal
this study were conducted
activity of compulsive or
between fall 1999 and winter
pathological gamblers
compare with that of
less serious gamblers
Las Vegas was chosen
or nongamblers?
because it probably has more
residents and visitors who
? What proportion of crimes
gamble than any other major
committed by compulsive
metropolitan area in the Unit­
or pathological gamblers is
ed States. If a relationship
linked to their gambling
exists between gambling and
crime and/or drug and alcohol
use, it should be clearly rec­
? What proportion of compul­
ognizable in Las Vegas. Des
sive or pathological gam­
Moines, on the other hand,
blers uses alcohol, illegal
represents a more typical
drugs, or other substances
midsize U.S. city. Both Las
to excess? How does that
Vegas and Des Moines partic­
affect the nature and extent
ipate in the Arrestee Drug
of their gambling, as well
Abuse Monitoring (ADAM)
as their criminal activity?
Program, which was operat­
ing in 35 U.S. cities when the
This Research for Practice
research was conducted.
is based on a study that
ADAM collects data that
addressed those questions.
allow researchers to develop
Researchers interviewed
national and local profiles of
arrestees in jail in two U.S.
drug use among people who
cities—Las Vegas, Nevada,
have been arrested and jailed
and Des Moines, Iowa. They
for whatever reason.
initially contacted 3,332
arrestees. Completed inter­
views and urine samples
Classifying gambling
were provided by 2,307 (69
percent) of those contacted.
Ninety percent of those
For the purpose of this study,
who were interviewed and
the arrestees who were inter­
provided urine samples also
viewed were divided into
answered questions that
five types based on their
probed their gambling behav­
answers to a series of ques­
ior and its relationship to their
tions designed to determine
crimes. The interviews for
the nature and extent of

their gambling: nongamblers
and low-risk, at-risk, problem,
and compulsive or pathologi­
cal gamblers. Gamblers are
There is no doubt about gambling’s reach today. What
classified by types based on
once appeared to be largely confined to casinos, the quiet
a set of 10 criteria developed
off-track bookie, bingo halls, and the occasional Friday
by the American Psychiatric
night poker game has become a national pastime. By 1993,
more than half of all Americans reported having gambled
Association (APA) and pub­
in a casino at least once. By 1996, Americans were wager­
lished in APA’s Diagnostic and
ing $47.6 billion a year—more money than movies, sport­
Statistical Manual (DSM–IV).
ing events, theme parks, cruise ships, and the recording
These criteria are preoccupa­
business generated combined. By 1997, nearly 500 gam­
tion (e.g., reliving past gam­
bling sites were on the Internet.
bling experiences or planning
The number of States with legalized gambling has mush­
future ventures), tolerance
roomed. In 1978, only two States—Nevada and New
(needing to wager more
Jersey—had casinos. That number grew to 27 by 1998.
money to generate the same
Twenty-three States now have Indian-owned casinos on
“buzz”), lying, withdrawal
tribal reservations within their boundaries. Seven States
(restless or irritable when
now permit betting on riverboat casinos. Additionally,
attempting to cut down or
State-run lotteries operate in 37 States and the District of
stop gambling), escape, chas­
Columbia. In fact, only Hawaii and Utah have no form of
ing (returning to get even for
legalized gambling. As States and localities seek solutions
a previous day’s losses), loss
to burgeoning budget deficits, legalized gambling may
of control, illegal acts, risked
become even more pervasive.
relationships, and bailout
(relying on others to provide
money to relieve a desperate
financial situation caused by
They tend to gamble for
gambling). Gamblers must
social or recreational purpos­
meet at least five of these
es, usually betting such small
criteria to be classified as
amounts that they rarely suf­
fer significant losses. Thus,
they have little or no reason
The overwhelming majority
to turn to crime to finance
of Americans fall into the
their gambling.
nongambler or low-risk
groups. Most either do not
Defining problem gambling.
gamble at all or do not gam­
Compulsive or pathological
ble seriously enough to have
gamblers, the subject of this
social, legal, or economic
study, are those who sooner
problems as a result of their
or later suffer heavy losses
gambling. In general, low-risk
(often $100 or more at a
gamblers are those who meet
few if any of APA’s criteria.

R E S E A R C H F O R P R A C T I C E / J U L Y 0 4
time), borrow or steal money
individuals who commit such
or write bad checks to pay
white-collar crimes as larceny,
gambling debts, avoid or can­
theft, embezzlement, and
not pay their nongambling
fraud when their gambling
bills, and lie to their families,
losses become too great to
friends, and therapists about
pay through their regular
the extent of their gambling.
sources of income. Although
Not only do they lie, but com­
many compulsive or patholog­
pulsive or pathological gam­
ical gamblers fit this image,
blers often rely on others to
surveys of the general popula­
bail them out of their gam­
tion paint a somewhat differ­
bling debts. They have risked
ent picture. In fact, general
and sometimes lost friend­
surveys show that pathologi­
ships, marriages, jobs, and
cal gamblers are most likely
careers because of gambling.
to be nonwhite males, who
They may have tried to curtail
are young, less well educat­
or stop their gambling, but
ed, and unmarried.
failed. Although the numbers
have differed over the years
Again, although many
as research methodologies
arrestees who are compul­
and definitions have changed, sive or pathological gamblers
the most recent studies
fit the two images described
show that about 2.5 million
above, the study found some
Americans are pathological
differences. Unlike the gen­
gamblers. Another 3 million
eral population, women
Americans are problem gam­
arrestees are as likely to have
blers. The lifetime prevalence
gambling problems as men.
rate for pathological and
Marital status and education­
problem gambling is esti­
al attainment also seem to
mated as 1.2 percent and
make little or no difference.
1.5 percent, respectively.
Arrestees start gambling at a
later age than pathological
Challenging stereotypes.
gamblers in the general popu­
Compulsive gamblers are
lation, especially men.
often perceived by the public
Male pathological gamblers
as largely middle-class men
typically begin gambling as
whose gambling habits lead
teenagers and then slowly,
them to steal from their fami­
often over a decade or more,
lies, friends, and/or employ­
develop a serious gambling
ers to finance their activities.
habit. Women who become
They are seen as unfortunate

compulsive or pathological
Perhaps more telling, more
gamblers generally begin
than one-third of the compul­
gambling later than men,
sive or pathological gamblers
usually in their 20s. Once
arrested (34.6 percent in Las
they become serious gam­
Vegas and 37.5 percent in
blers, however, women
Des Moines) had been arrest­
develop a dependency quick­
ed on at least one felony
ly, typically within 5 years.
count. Surprisingly, though,
Both men and women arrest­
pathological gamblers were
ees who are compulsive or
no more likely to be arrested
pathological gamblers tend to
for property or other white-
be from lower social and eco­
collar crimes (larceny, theft,
nomic classes than those
embezzlement, and fraud)
identified in general surveys,
than nongamblers and low-
more often exhibit sociopath­
risk and at-risk gamblers. Nor
ic traits, and frequently start
were they more likely to be
as criminals and only later
arrested on drug charges,
become gamblers.
including selling illegal drugs.
Rather, they were most likely
to be arrested for such offen­
Odds are there’s a link
ses as probation or parole
violations, liquor law viola­
As noted earlier, compulsive
tions, trespassing, and other
or pathological gamblers rep­
public order offenses.
resent only a small percentage
of the general population. Yet
Link to robbery, assault.
those who meet APA’s defi­
Still, more than 30 percent
nition for pathological gam­
of pathological gamblers
bling accounted for slightly
who had been arrested in
more than 1 in 10 arrestees
Las Vegas and Des Moines
surveyed in Las Vegas and
reported having committed a
about 1 in 25 in Des Moines.
robbery within the past year,
Together, 14.5 percent of
nearly double the percentage
arrestees in Las Vegas and
for low-risk gamblers. Nearly
9.2 percent of those in Des
one-third admitted that they
Moines were either problem
had committed the robbery
or pathological gamblers—
to pay for gambling or to pay
three to five times the per­
gambling debts. In addition,
centage in the general
about 13 percent said they
had assaulted someone

R E S E A R C H F O R P R A C T I C E / J U L Y 0 4
to get money; one in four
gamblers tested positive for
assaults reported by patho­
one or more illegal drugs.
logical gamblers was di­
Arrestees’ urine samples
rectly or indirectly related
were screened for hallucino­
to gambling. By comparison,
gens such as marijuana, opi­
low-risk, at-risk, or problem
ates such as heroin, cocaine,
gamblers reported commit­
and methamphetamine
ting gambling-related rob­
(“speed”). Overall, 60 per­
beries infrequently.
cent of arrestees interviewed
in Las Vegas and 56 percent
Drug dealing. Although
of those in Des Moines had
they were no more likely to
at least one illegal drug in
have been arrested on drug
their urine samples. But
charges, compulsive or patho­
pathological gamblers were
logical gamblers were signifi­
no likelier to test positive for
cantly more likely to have sold
drugs than were other gam­
drugs than arrestees who fit
bler types. Nor were there
the other gambling types.
any significant differences
More than one-third of patho­
in which drugs were found,
logical gamblers said they had
with one exception. Patho­
sold drugs, compared to 19.2
logical gamblers were more
percent of problem gamblers,
likely to test positive for
20.2 percent of at-risk gam-
methamphetamine, a drug
blers, and 16.1 percent of low-
taken as an “upper” to keep
risk gamblers. The differences
users alert and awake during
in those numbers were even
hours- or even days-long
greater among gamblers who
gambling binges. Beyond
reported having sold drugs
drugs, nearly two-thirds of
specifically to fund their gam­
the pathological gamblers
bling or pay gambling debts.
reported that they drank
One in five pathological gam­
alcohol to the point of
blers who had been arrested
dependence. In fact, only
admitted having sold drugs to
3.3 percent of all arrestees
finance their gambling, com­
interviewed for this study
pared to 4 percent among
who were pathological gam­
problem gamblers and less
blers reported no drug or
than 2 percent among at-risk
alcohol problems.
Again, not surprisingly, the
Using speed. Not surprising­
study found a relationship
ly, a significant proportion of
between pathological gam­
compulsive or pathological
bling and crime and/or drug