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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2019 Research

Study Identifies Priorities for Addressing Gambling Addiction in Washington State

Story by Eric Hollenbeck • Photo by WSU Photo Services

From left, Eric Hollenbeck, Joan Giese, Kahlil Philander, and Kristine Kuhn participating in the Carson College’s faculty research happy hour.
For most people, gambling is a fairly low-risk form of entertainment. An evening spent playing poker with friends, a couple enjoying their honeymoon at a Las Vegas casino, or placing a wager on a sporting event are viewed by many as harmless ways to have fun.

But for others, gambling becomes an addiction, one that can affect their personal life and relationships with others. According to the Mayo Clinic, gambling addiction can lead to financial problems, depression, poor health, and even suicide.

Kahlil Philander, assistant professor of hospitality business management at WSU Everett, has done extensive research on the socioeconomic impact of gambling. Recently, Philander, along with researchers at the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, coauthored a study on problem gambling for the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC).

The gambling rate in Washington state among adults is significantly higher than the national average, according to a September 2016 economic market report by the Spectrum Gaming Group. In the report, it’s estimated that between 123,000 and 229,000 adults in Washington need problem gambling services.

“The scope of the 2019 problem gambling study was to look at all of the services within the state to prevent and treat problem gambling,” says Philander.

Current Structure of Self-Exclusion Programs Ineffective

According to the problem gambling study, all tribal casinos and most card rooms in Washington have some type of self-exclusion program for players. Self-exclusion programs allow people who think they may have a gambling problem to add their information to a registry that prevents them from gambling at that location, imposing what is essentially a self-ban.

The problem with this current system, according to Philander, is the registry of players is business specific, meaning a player could ban themselves from one establishment but then visit another and continue to gamble.

“In British Columbia, there is a centralized database that every site connects into. So, when someone self-excludes, their information is entered into this database and shared among the other sites,” he says.

Collaboration Key to Better Address Problem Gambling

“Washington is pretty far behind in most programs, and I think a lot of that comes from the structure of having multiple different authorities who are responsible for gambling in the state,” says Philander.

The WSGC does not have jurisdiction over tribal gaming. The latter is controlled by American Indian tribes, who are recognized by federal and state governments as sovereign, self-governed nations.

That doesn’t mean the state and the tribes disagree on the importance of addressing problem gambling, according to Philander. It simply means that more efforts are needed to standardize systems and to do so in a collaborative and meaningful way.

Based on the study findings, the WSGC made the following recommendations to the Washington State Legislature for the 2019–2020 legislative cycle:

  • Create a centralized, statewide, voluntary self-exclusion system that is more accessible to problem gamblers and allows them to exclude themselves from gambling facilities without entering one, which could trigger their addiction.
  • Create a joint legislative task force on problem gambling that includes members from tribal and non-tribal organizations and members of government, industry, public health, treatment, research, and gamblers to improve outreach, prevention, treatment services, and responsible gaming programs.

As a result of the recommendations, in May 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill for a statewide self-exclusion system, and $100,000 was included in the state budget for a Problem Gambling Task Force. The Washington State Health Care Authority will lead the task force in studying the need for services, how well that need is being met, and what more the state should do to address the issue. Both actions are significant steps forward to address problem gambling and improve the lives of people who suffer from gambling addiction, says the WSGC.

“Everybody has a vested interest in this,” says Philander. “Even if a casino operator assumes that having a good, responsible gambling program doesn’t contribute to their business at all, Washington state and tribes have a responsibility to protect the health of their communities.”