Military Personnel 3.5x More Prone to Problem Gambling

  • The study was co-led by researchers from UNLV and Bowling Green State University
  • 68.6% of responding military members had problem gambling traits
  • Only 102 active service members responded and more analysis is wanted
  • Researchers said that military personnel are often discouraged from seeking help
Soldier helping another soldier up
A study revealed that military members are 3.5x more prone to problem gambling than regular civilians. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

An eye-opening conference

A study co-led by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and Bowling Green State University found that problem gambling rates are 3.5x higher among active military personnel than the regular population.

Dr. Shane W. Kraus of the UNLV Department of Psychology and Dr. Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University delivered the findings Monday during the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) Conference on Gambling and Addiction in Las Vegas. Previous research in the field was almost non-existent, leaving Monday’s reveal with a greater-than-usual impact.

68.6% of active service members were prone to problem gambling

The study polled 3,050 US citizens, ranging from active duty to retired military members to civilians, and found that 68.6% of active service members were prone to problem gambling, compared to 18.7% of the regular population. Although only 102 active members responded, 70 were found to have traits linked to problem gambling.

Problem gambling in the military

The study, considered one of the first longitudinal examinations in this group of people, was funded by Kindbridge Research Institute (KRI) to learn about the trend towards problem gambling in the military if one existed. DraftKings and Playtech also made sizable contributions to the funding pool. 

KRI is at the front of research and treatment for military veterans suffering from gambling addiction. One of its main focuses is the 50x4Vets project, which has a goal of increasing the rate of treatment for veterans with gambling problems 50 times over in the next four years.

Dr. Kraus said that, while the findings were interesting, they need to spend more time investigating the matter.

more comprehensive research is needed to fully understand”

“Our findings suggest that more comprehensive research is needed to fully understand how widespread the issue of problem gambling is among active duty personnel,” said Kraus. “Current trends in the data suggest there could potentially be many service members with unmet treatment needs for problem gambling.”

Executive Director of Kindbridge Research Institute, Nathan D.L. Smith, Ph.D., said that he would also like to see a more comprehensive look at problem gambling rates with a larger pool of subjects.

“Because of the sampling method and small sample size, the rate of problem gambling in this sample cannot be generalized to the wider active duty military community,” said Smith. “However, the significant rate of gambling problems in active duty military is a major red flag and larger, more representative studies of active duty military are now vital to determine what the true rate of gambling disorder is in this population.”

Environmental factors

The United States military is culpable in the development of problem gambling traits in many servicemen and women. The US Department of Defense (DoD) operates over 3,000 slot machines on various overseas military bases, earning a combined annual revenue of around $100m.

A recent review by KRI of gambling policies compared the DoD to 35 states with legal operations. It ultimately found that the DoD had the worst and most problematic jurisdiction.

“Our review concluded that the DoD requires only one of the ten responsible gambling policies recommended by the American Gaming Association, while the average number of responsible gambling policies required in the other 35 states was just over seven,” said Dr. Smith.

often discouraged from seeking help

Smith also spoke to the psychology of military members, who are often discouraged from seeking help in several areas, including gambling addiction.

“Active duty military seek help for problem gambling at significantly lower rates than the civilian population. The reasons for this are likely complex, but a major factor may be that active duty military can face consequences in their career, including discharge if they report a gambling problem to military medical staff.”