Gambling's Impact on Families

The tragedy of gambling addiction reaches far beyond the more than 15 million Americans 1who are problem or pathological gamblers. Employers, work associates, friends, and taxpayers often pay a steep price as well. However, it is family members who bear the brunt of the pain and misery that accompanies this addiction. In addition to material deprivations, family members frequently experience the trauma of divorce, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence.


In a survey of nearly 400 Gamblers Anonymous members, 28 percent reported being either separated or divorced as a direct result of their gambling problems. 2

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported that it received "abundant testimony and evidence that compulsive gambling introduces a greatly heightened level of stress and tension into marriages and families, often culminating in divorce and other manifestations of familial disharmony." 3

The number of divorces in Harrison County, Mississippi, has nearly tripled since the introduction of casinos. The county, which is home to ten casinos, has averaged an additional 850 divorces per year since casinos arrived. 4A nationwide survey undertaken for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that "respondents representing 2 million adults identified a spouse's gambling as a significant factor in a prior divorce." 5

Child abuse and neglect

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported: "Children of compulsive gamblers are often prone to suffer abuse, as well as neglect, as a result of parental problem or pathological gambling." 6

In Indiana, a review of the state's gaming commission records revealed that 72 children were found abandoned on casino premises during a 14-month period. 7

Children have died as a direct result of adult gambling problems. In Louisiana and South Carolina, children died after being locked in hot cars for hours while their caretakers gambled.8 An Illinois mother was sentenced to prison for suffocating her infant daughter in order to collect insurance money to continue gambling. 9

Cases of child abandonment at Foxwoods, the nation's largest casino in Ledyard, Conn., became so commonplace that authorities were forced to post signs in the casino's parking lots warning parents not to leave children in cars unattended. 10

Domestic violence

According to the National Research Council, studies indicate that between one quarter and one half of spouses of compulsive gamblers have been abused. 11

Case studies of 10 casino communities conducted for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission revealed that the majority of those communities witnessed increases in domestic violence relative to the introduction of casinos. 12

Domestic violence shelters on Mississippi's Gulf Coast reported increases in requests for assistance ranging from 100 to 300 percent after the introduction of casinos. 13

A University of Nebraska Medical Center study concluded that problem gambling is as much a risk factor for domestic violence as alcohol abuse. 14

Domestic violence murders in at least 11 states have been traced to gambling problems since 1996. 15

1 National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) Final Report, June 1999, p. 4-1.
2 NGISC Final Report, p. 7-27.
3 IBID, p. 7-26.
4 Mississippi State Department of Health, "Vital Statistics Mississippi" for the years 1991-1998.
5 National Opinion Research Center, "Gambling Impact and Behavior Study: Report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission," April 1, 1999, p. 48.
6 NGISC Final Report, p. 7-28.
7 Grace Schneider, "Children Being Left Alone While Parents Gamble," [Louisville] Courier-Journal, July 18, 2000.
8 Joe Darby, "Sitter Indicted in Toddler's Death," New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 23, 1997, p. B1; "Police: Baby Died of Dehydration in Car While Mom Gambled in Casino," Associated Press, September 2, 1997 .
9 Ed Bierschenk, "Gambler Receives 21 Years in Connection with Baby's Death," Copley News Service, October 23, 1999.
10 Stephanie Saul, "Tribe Bets on Growth," Newsday, August 11, 1997 .
11 National Research Council, "Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review," April 1, 1999, p. 5-2.
12 NGISC Final Report, p. 7-27.
13 Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., "The House Never Loses and Maryland Cannot Win: Why Casino Gaming Is a Bad Idea," October 16, 1995, p. 5; NGISC Final Report, p. 7-27.
14 John Jejkal, "U. Nebraska Doctor Contributes to National Domestic Violence Study," Daily Nebraskan, January 13, 2000.
15 Petula Dvorak, "Marrero Man Kills Wife, Self," New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 8, 1998, p. A1; Benita Williams, "Woman Sentenced in Slaying," Kansas City Star, December 21, 1999 , p. B2; Dave Racher, "Landscaper Held in Wife's Slaying," Philadelphia Daily News, July 11, 1998; Hector Castro, "Savage Killing of 3 Still a Mystery," (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune, June 14, 1999, p. A1; Carson Walker, "Cepek Killed in Her Apartment, Police Believe," ( Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader, January 30, 1997; Mark Horvit, "Anecdotes Link Video Poker with Crimes," Charlotte Observer, October 3, 1999 ; Jack Gruber, "Gambling Help Comes Slowly," Detroit News, October 3, 1997, p. C1; Ed Hayward, "Gambling Habit Eyed As Motive," Boston Herald, October 21, 1997, p. 7; W. Melillo and B. Masters, "Lone Survivor of Father's Shooting Dies," Washington Post, August 6, 1998, p. A1; Associated Press, "Woman Blames Gambling Debts in Double Murder," September 10, 1999 ; "Ohio Man Guilty of Bomb Murder," Associated Press, February 5, 1997.

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