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The paradox of casino expansion: A look at Iowa’s decreasing gambling rates

The study has shed light on a fascinating phenomenon in the realm of gambling behaviour.

The growth of casinos in a region is often seen as a direct pathway to increased gambling and associated problems. However, a groundbreaking study by the University of Iowa presents a counterintuitive finding: despite the doubling of casinos in Iowa since 1995, the state has witnessed a decrease in the number of gamblers and gambling addicts. This article delves into the details of this study, its implications, and the broader context of gambling in Iowa.

The Surprising Decline of Gambling in Iowa

In a remarkable turn of events, the University of Iowa’s recent study has shed light on a fascinating phenomenon in the realm of gambling behavior. Contrary to the expected increase in gambling activities following the surge in the number of casinos, Iowa has seen a decline. Since the introduction of casino gambling in 1991, the state has grown its casino count to 21, with the majority state-licensed and a few operated by Native American tribes. However, this growth hasn’t translated into a proportionate rise in gambling participation.

Examining the Data: Fewer Gamblers and Addicts

The study, led by Donald Black, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa, explores this unexpected trend. Black, who has been studying gamblers and gambling habits since the late 1990s, highlights a saturation point in society’s gambling behavior. The survey, which involved 356 residents from eastern Iowa, utilized the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS) to assess gambling behavior. The results were striking: 83% of respondents in the latest survey did not gamble at all, compared to 72% in 1995 and close to 86% in 1989, pre-casino era. Even more noteworthy was the reduction in the prevalence of addicted gamblers, dropping from nearly 2% in 1995 to 1.4% in the most recent survey.

The Saturation Point Theory and Beyond

This phenomenon, as Black notes, supports a theory suggesting that societies reach a saturation point where additional gambling facilities do not attract more participants. This theory, also supported by Howard Shaffer, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, indicates a pattern where the initial allure of gambling options wears off over time, akin to a child losing interest in a new toy. Black’s study not only challenges prevailing assumptions about the impact of casino proliferation but also provides a crucial insight into the dynamics of gambling behavior.

The Broader Context: Iowa’s Gambling Landscape

The implications of this study extend beyond academic interest, potentially influencing casino expansion plans and policymaking in Iowa. The state’s journey with gambling started with the legalization of bingo in 1975, followed by a state lottery, dog and horse tracks, and finally, riverboat casinos in 1989. The state has collected significant revenue from casino gambling, with the last fiscal year’s earnings reported at $116 million by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

The study, conducted between 2006 and 2008 as part of a family study on problem gambling, in collaboration with the Center for Social and Behavioral Research at the University of Northern Iowa, opens new avenues in understanding gambling behavior. It not only highlights the complex nature of gambling habits but also serves as a crucial reference point for states considering the expansion of gaming facilities.

In conclusion, the University of Iowa’s study presents a paradox in the world of gambling: more casinos do not necessarily equate to more gamblers. This revelation, significant in its own right, also underscores the importance of nuanced approaches to understanding gambling behavior, both for policymakers and casino operators. As gambling dynamics continue to evolve, particularly in the digital era, such studies become increasingly vital in shaping responsible and informed decisions on CUSL and beyond.

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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