By Doug Maine
With the Connecticut Lottery planning to introduce keno sometime next year, experts on problem gambling are concerned about the possibility that the game could create a new type of problem gambler.
Although the game is played in numerous other states, including all of those that border Connecticut , and at some casinos, little scientific research has been done to determine its impact on society as a whole or on specific groups such as Latinos.
One exception was a study completed in 2000 by Rachel A. Volberg of New York ‘s keno game, known as “Quick Draw.” Comparing the results of two surveys that had been taken in 1996 and 1999, she found that Latinas living in the New York City area had become the most frequent Quick Draw players by 1999.
In 1996, less than a year after the game had been introduced, most weekly Quick Draw players had been middle-aged white men who participated in significantly more gambling activities than other weekly gamblers. They were more frequently involved in gambling on pari-mutuel events, at casinos, on games of skill and on private card games, and were more likely to spend three or more hours in a typical gambling session and lose $100 or more in a single day, Volberg said.
By contrast, the weekly Quick Draw players in 1999 were much less likely to have gambled on non-lottery activities in the past year. They were also less likely to be white or have high annual household incomes.
With regard to problem gambling, Volberg said, “While the majority of weekly Quick Draw players in both studies were not problem gamblers, problem gambling prevalence rates were significantly higher among weekly Quick Draw players than among other weekly gamblers or weekly lottery players. Among the 1999 weekly Quick Draw players, the prevalence of problem and probable pathological gambling is significantly higher among African American and Hispanic respondents than among whites.”
Less is known about the impact of keno on Latinos and other groups in the Bay State. Spokesman Lisa McDonald said the Massachusetts State Lottery Corp. has not conducted any research to determine the ethnic or racial makeup of keno or lottery players. As for targeting certain groups, she said, “We do not do any marketing and/or advertising based on ethnic group.”
Based on calls to its help line, Marlene Wagner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, said the number one way people fall into problem gambling is by playing the lottery’s instant, or “scratch,” games, followed by slot machines at casinos and sports betting with bookies.
Cautioning against reading too much into that, she said, “We don’t know if that’s how (the caller’s problem) started, but that was the problem at the time they called the helpline, and, of course, there are lots of people who don’t call at all.”
Among its services, the Massachusetts council operates a website with the address latinoproblemgambling.org, which provides information in both English and Spanish about available services, the symptoms and effects of problem gambling and assurances of confidentiality for those seeking help
According to the site, “Nationwide there is a general lack of data about Latino problem gambling. However, the belief that there are higher levels of problem gambling in Latino communities may be consistent with other health disparities data. And non-traditional, culturally-tied gambling activities — such as underground cock fights, dice games, and widespread video slot machine gambling at bodegas — suggest a strong need for problem gambling prevention, intervention, and treatment programs that are culturally and linguistically competent.”
The site also offers a facilitator guide for clinicians serving the Latino community. It indicates that Latino cultural attitudes can affect treatment for problem gambling: “people are less likely to discuss problems outside of the family; men especially are less likely to admit to having a problem; if men do get into treatment, it will take time to get them to open up about perceived vulnerabilities, etc.” It advises service providers to “understand the importance of relationship building; (and) not settle for simple agreement (when suggesting a course of action), asking (the) patient to explain his/her understanding or what actions they will take.”
Keno is a fast-paced electronic bingo game that some critics have called “the crack cocaine of gambling.”
“It’s a game that runs every three to five minutes, so it has kind of an immediate reward attached to it, so it certainly has additive qualities,” Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said.
In Massachusetts , where keno has been offered by the state lottery since 1993, winning numbers are drawn approximately every four minutes. Players select from one to 12 numbers or “spots” for each game and decide how much they want to bet. A computer then randomly chooses 20 winning numbers from 1 to 80 and displays them on a Keno video monitor. Players can also buy tickets for up to 30 consecutive games and check the winning numbers later on their computers.
A 2009 report “Gambling in Connecticut : Analyzing the Economic and Social Impacts,” prepared by the Spectrum Gaming Group, is posted on the Connecticut Lottery Corp.website at http://www.ctlottery.org/uploads/user-files/june_24_2009_spectrum_final_final_report_to_the_state_of_connecticut.pdf. (http://tinyurl.com/phcnaje)
According to the report, “Problem and probable pathological gamblers are significantly more likely to be male (82 percent), 18-34 years old (34 percent) and have some college education (48 percent).”
Based on a telephone survey of state residents, researchers reported that respondents identifying themselves as Hispanic or Latino constituted either 9.2 or 3.5 percent of the state’s problem gamblers, depending on which of two commonly-used screening methods were used.
However, the rate of participation by Hispanics or Latinos in the state’s 17 Bettor Choice clinics for problem gamblers was “very low, less than 2 percent of the total in any one year.” Because Spectrum’s survey “failed to capture a representative number of Hispanic respondents,” they concluded that “the difference between the total number of those being treated and the actual number of Hispanic or Latino problem gamblers was likely to be greater than the numbers indicated.
Drexler, of the CCPG, believes that if the state is introducing a new form of gambling, it needs to provide more resources for treatment and prevention. “There are so, so many consequences (of problem and pathological gambling) that can affect the family and our communities,” she said.
She is urging the state to do a study on the impact of expanding gambling, which would include the participation of the CCPG and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ Problem Gambling Services program.
“Slot machines, instant lottery tickets and blackjack are games where people have had problems.” With the introduction of keno, “this provides one more opportunity for someone to develop a problem with gambling,” Drexler said.
“Ninety-five percent of the population can gamble responsibly or socially, but 2-5 percent will have a problem,” she said. “If you choose to gamble, don’t gamble more than you can afford to lose. Don’t take credit cards or bank checks.”
“The council is not for or against legalized gambling. Our concern is that when the state goes into this new form of gambling, there (won’t be) more resources for treatment and prevention,” she said.
Drexler said she has been told that keno will be available where lottery tickets are already sold and, eventually, in 600 additional locations where alcohol is served, including bars and family restaurants.
“We have been trying to work with the Connecticut State Lottery to see what kinds of safeguards (will be) in place,” she said. “Our concern is when you have these machines in family restaurants, it’s teaching a gambling activity at a very young age.”
Drexler said she believes highly visible signs should be posted where keno machines are located that would say, “This is not child’s play.”
Problem gambling is defined by the National Council on Problem Gambling as gambling behavior that causes disruptions in any major area of life. It includes pathological, or compulsive, gambling, a progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, ‘chasing’ losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences.
The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling’s toll-free, 24-hour Problem Gambling Helpline provides free, immediate and culturally and linguistically relevant support and referral assistance to problem gamblers, family members and others adversely affected by problem gambling. The hotline number is 1-800-789-7777.
Photo illustration by ctmirror.org