|December 15, 1997
Media Contact: Dolores Davies, (619) 534-5994 or firstname.lastname@example.org
by Professor David Phillips
December 15, Suicide & Life Threatening Behavior
INCREASE IN LEGALIZED GAMBLING IS
LINKED TO HIGHER SUICIDE RATES IN UCSD STUDY
The widespread increase of legalized
gambling in the U.S. over the last decade has been linked to higher suicide rates in major
gaming communities among both residents and visitors to the area, according to a new study
conducted by suicidologist David Phillips, a professor of sociology at the University of
California, San Diego. The study is the first large-scale, statistical investigation to
find a strong link between gambling and suicide.
The study, which appeared today in the
December issue of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the official journal of
the American Association of Suicidology, found that visitors to and residents of major
gaming communities such as Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City experience suicide rates
about four times higher than do their counterparts in non-gaming communities.
Over the last decade, the U.S. has
witnessed an enormous expansion of legalized gaming. In 1988, only two states
Nevada and New Jersey had legalized gambling. Today, more than half of the states
in the U.S. have made casinos and other gaming activities legal.
"This study shows that it is not a
coincidence that Las Vegas, the premier gambling center in the U.S., displays the highest
levels of suicide in the nation, both for visitors and residents," said Phillips.
"While there are obviously clear economic benefits that have induced many states to
legalize gaming activities, from a public health perspective, gambling may not be a very
According to the study, "Elevated
Suicide Levels Associated with Legalized Gambling," on which Phillips collaborated
with UCSD graduate student Marisa Smith and UCSD undergraduate Ward Welty, in 1994
Americans spent about $482 billion on legal gambling, substantially more than the U.S.
government spends on Medicare and Medicaid combined.
To determine whether or not there was a
relationship between legalized gambling and suicide rates, Phillips examined the suicide
mortality rates in major gaming communities in the U.S. Las Vegas, Atlantic City,
and Reno. Mortality rates for Atlantic City were analyzed both before and after gambling
was legalized. The study compares the suicide rates of residents of and out-of-state
visitors to these communities with those of other communities in the U.S.
While the average county in the U.S. had
a suicide level of less than 1 percent (.97%) among out-of-state visitors, Las Vegas had a
visitor suicide level of 4.28 percent of all deaths. Visitor suicide levels were also much
higher than the norm for Reno (2.31 percent) and Atlantic City (1.87 percent). In Atlantic
City, average suicide rates were maintained before the establishment of legalized gambling
in 1978. After the introduction of casinos, suicide rates for visitors and residents
climbed to abnormally high levels.
"Our findings suggest but do not
prove that gamblers experience abnormally high risks of suicide," said Phillips.
"These findings might also suggest that not just gamblers, but other groups including
spouses, children and relatives of gamblers, as well as residents who work in the gaming
industry, could also experience elevated risks of suicide. What is clear is that gambling
or some factor closely associated with gambling settings is linked to increased suicide
According to Phillips, previous studies
have shown that people who are economically desperate and in substantial debt are more
likely to commit suicide. On average, people who gamble lose money, and people who gamble
a great deal can lose a great deal of money. While this may not lead to suicide by the
gambler, it could lead to suicide by the gamblers spouse, son, relative, or business
partner, he explained. Other studies have also found that gamblers are more prone to
white-collar crime, substance abuse, and child abuse.
Phillips, an authority on mortality
trends and statistics, is a renowned expert on suicide. Previous research has included the
role of psychosomatic factors in delaying death in certain people; the incidence of hidden
suicides; imitative or copy-cat suicide; mortality rates before and after special holidays
and birthdays; and the effects of media coverage of suicides and homicides. His studies
have been published in numerous professional and academic journals, including the Journal
of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, Science,
and the American Journal of Sociology.