The growth of gambling in Arizona and across the country has had a desensitizing-effect on many people. Often all we see on TV are the big paydays and hear the talking points about how much revenue gambling can allegedly create for cash-strapped states.

Arizona, like many states, is navigating our way through a difficult budget situation. Some have proposed closing the budget gap by introducing and taxing new gambling venues that legalize casino-style gambling at racetracks called “racinos.”   These proposals would legalize casinos off-reservations and set the stage for a dramatic expansion of gambling in Arizona.

Allowing new gambling venues off of the reservations would remove the caps on gambling contained in Arizona’s Indian gaming compacts and would result in a broad expansion of gambling in every corner of Arizona.

Center for Arizona Policy strongly opposes any effort to expand gambling in Arizona. Across the nation, wherever racetracks, casinos, and slots have grown, so have the harms to the family. Policy makers need to remember the countless stories of lives destroyed by gambling before opening up the floodgates to the massive expansion of gambling.

Stories like this one from 2007, of an employee who swindled $300,000 from the Scottsdale Unified School District to support her gambling habit. Investigators found that the woman had been writing fraudulent checks and depositing them into her personal bank account. The stolen money wasn’t spent at online gambling venues or in Las Vegas, but right here at local valley casinos.

According to the most recent annual report by the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling, 148 people sought help with breaking their addiction last year while holding a gambling debt in excess of $10,000. Each of these represents not just an individual, but a family. Many problem gamblers are married with children and as a result, they risk their entire family’s financial ruin.

However, the harms of problem gambling go well beyond the pocketbook.

Here is just a glimpse of the negative impact gambling can have on our families:

  • Gambling addiction by a spouse is often easier to hide than other addiction such as substance abuse because of the lack of initial physical symptoms. In addition to the damage done to the spousal relationship by a hidden gambling addiction, the sudden revelation of gambling debt and other financial consequences of the addiction place enormous strain on the family.[i]
  • The financial risk to the family of a gambling addict is compounded by the fact that a problem gambler can cause the same damage to his or her family’s financial situation in just minutes that a substance abuser would take weeks or years to inflict.[ii]
  • The spouses of gambling addicts experience emotions that mimic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and include guilt and self-blame, a loss of trust and respect for their spouse, feelings of isolation, anger, resentment, anxiety, lack of satisfaction in their sexual relationship, and a diminished ability to perform their roles and responsibilities.[iii] The emotional health consequences can even put the gambler’s spouse at risk for suicide.[iv]
  • Pathologic gamblers are three times more likely to divorce than individuals who do not gamble.[v]
  • Children who have experienced the effects of problem gambling go through a time of “pervasive loss” when a parent’s gambling addiction emerges, including the loss of the parent or trust in the parent, a lost relationship with that parent, and dire financial consequences.[vi]
  • In one study, children of gamblers experienced a lack of money available for common tangible items such as presents, school trips, and in some cases, food.[vii] Some of the children in this study reported going to bed hungry either because of the lack of funds or because a parent was out gambling.
  • Maternal gambling has been significantly associated with poor health and academic, psychosocial, and suicidal symptoms in children and adolescents.[viii]
  • Over the past 15 years, there have been at least 100 instances of parents neglecting and abandoning their children to gamble.[ix] Several of these children died as result of being abandoned at home or in a vehicle while their parents were gambling.
  • One study on the correlation between gambling addiction and domestic violence found that 63% of problem gamblers reported some violence as a perpetrator and/or victim in their home.[x]

Make no mistake about it- expanding gambling through legalizing “racinos” will make more of our neighbors vulnerable to the false message of easy winnings. More marriages will be at risk, more children will suffer, and more families will be broken. The state should not be in the business of encouraging risky behavior that harms communities and families. We can do better.



[i] Jennifer McComb, et.al., Conceptualizing and Treating Problem Gambling as a Family Issue, 35 J. of Marital and Family Therapy 415, 418 (2009).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id. at 419; David C. Hodgins, et.al, Relationship Satisfaction and Psychological Distress Among Concerned Significant Others of Pathological Gamblers, 195 J. of Nervous and Mental Disease 65, 67 (2007).

[iv] McComb, et. al, supra at 419.

[v] Leena M. Sumitra & Shannon C. Miller, Pathologic Gambling Disorder, 118 Postgraduate Medicine 31, 32 (2005).

[vi] Id. at 421.

[vii] Philip Darbyshire, Candice Oster, and Helen Carrig, The Experience of Pervasive Loss:Children and Young People Living in a Family Where Parental Gambling Is a Problem, 17 J. of Gambling Studies 23, 39 (2001).

[viii] Philip Schluter, Maria Bellringer, & Max Abbott, Maternal gambling associated with families food, shelter, and safety needs: Findings from the Pacific Island Families Study, Journal of Gambling Issues, Jan. 2007, available at http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue19/pdfs/schluter.pdf.

[ix] Children Abandoned by Parents, CasinoWatch.org, available at http://casinowatch.org/children_gambling/children_abandoned_by_parents.html, (last visited Nov. 2, 2011).

[x] Lorne Korman, et. al., Problem Gambling and Intimate Partner Violence, 24 J. Gambling Studies 13, 20 (2008).

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