Journal of gambling behavior

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 22–41 | Cite as

The prevalence rates of pathological gambling: A look at methods

  • Robert P. Culleton


Planning the gambling environment requires protection of the public's health, safety and welfare. Whereas most public gaming provisions and statutes address the public's fears of organized crime as well as some welfare needs, rarely do they safeguard the public's health regarding the spread of the mental disease known as pathological gambling. Measurement of the prevalence and incidence of this disease would enable policy planners to evaluate both the state's responsibility for an epidemic and the adequacy of publicly funded treatment programs. The purpose of this paper is to examine the methods which underlie three different estimates of the prevalence rate of pathological gambling and to critique them in the light of sound epidemiological procedure. In 1975, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) of the University of Michigan conducted a national survey and a survey of the state of Nevada on behalf of the U.S. Commission on a National Policy Toward Gambling. Using discriminant function analysis coupled with subjective inspection of cases in the “at-risk” pool, the researchers estimated rates of “probable” and “potential” pathological gamblers. In 1984 and 1985, this author surveyed residents in the Delaware Valley and the state of Ohio using the cumulative clinical signs method which also posited rates of “probable” and “potential” pathological gamblers. In 1986, researchers at the Office of Mental Health for the State of New York employed a formal screening device to survey residents and proposed a rate of “probable” pathological gamblers and a rate of “problem” — although not pathological — gamblers. All three approaches produced different estimates. The utility of prevalence and incidence rate research in this field is threatened by a lack of consensus about the proper epidemiological procedure to be employed in arriving at these estimates. There is also confusion about the distinction between a “probable” and a “potential” pathological gambler. The planning purpose, method, validity and reliability of prevalence rate research about pathological gambling are addressed in this paper.


Prevalence Rate Discriminant Function Organize Crime Pathological Gambler Rate Research 
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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert P. Culleton
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutgers, the State University of New JerseyUSA

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