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Gambling and Crime Among Arrestees: Exploring the Link

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2004
13 pages
This Research for Practice edition examines the relationship between problem gambling and crime.
The main research question asks if there is a connection between problem gambling and crime: do compulsive gamblers resort to criminal activities to pay their debts or finance their bets? Although the stereotype of the typical compulsive gambler is of a mainly middle-class man whose habits get the best of him, research reveals that the typical gambler is most likely a young, nonwhite male who is not well educated and is unmarried. Researchers interviewed 2,307 arrestees in jail in Las Vegas, NV, and Des Moines, IA between Fall 1999 and Winter 2001 using the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program as a survey vehicle. Urine samples were also provided by all participants. Compulsive or pathological gamblers are defined as those who, over time, suffer heavy losses, borrow or steal money or write bad checks to pay gambling debts, avoid gambling bills, and lie to family members regarding gambling. Of the arrestees in Las Vegas, 1 in 10 were identified as compulsive gamblers and 1 in 25 were compulsive gamblers in Des Moines; these figures are 3 to 5 times the percentage found in the general population. Over one-third of the compulsive gamblers had been arrested on at least one felony charge. However, these gambling offenders were not more likely to be arrested for property or other white-collar offenses. Instead, these arrestees were most likely to be arrested for parole violations, liquor law violations, trespassing, and other public order offenses. Despite these facts, over 30 percent of compulsive gamblers who had been arrested reported committing a robbery within the past year, which is double the percentage for those arrestees without compulsive gambling problems. Moreover, over 60 percent of compulsive gambler arrestees in Las Vegas and 56 percent of those in Des Moines tested positive for at least one illegal drug. These findings have implications for policy since most of the gamblers identified in this study come from the fringes of society and are more likely to be involved in alcohol or drug use. Early identification and treatment may help deter repeat offenders.

Date Published: July 1, 2004