State Organization Issues Florida’s First Study On Problem Gambling and Crime

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Problem gambling is prevalent among 17.4% of the arrestee population in Tampa, Florida according to a new feasibility study sponsored and issued today by the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), the statewide advocate on gambling addiction.

According to Pat Fowler, Executive Director of the FCCG, “Most problem gambling studies have been completed while offenders are imprisoned. The new study, which is a first in the state and among a first in the nation, revealed the importance of screening

Problem gambling is prevalent among 17.4% of the arrestee population in Tampa, Florida according to a new feasibility study sponsored and issued today by the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), the statewide advocate on gambling addiction.

The study, Gambling, Problem Gambling, and Criminality in an Arrestee Population, authored by Drs. Louis Lieberman and Mary Cuadrado, confirmed the presence of gambling problems among a significant percentage of detainees at the Orient Road Jail in Hillsborough County. The report further revealed that the Lie/Bet Screen, comprised of only two-questions, can reasonably estimate the prevalence of problem gambling among offenders at the initial stage of the criminal justice system.

According to Pat Fowler, Executive Director of the FCCG, “Most problem gambling studies have been completed while offenders are imprisoned. The new study, which is a first in the state and among a first in the nation, revealed the importance of screening individuals at the booking stage. It showed how asking two simple questions, known as the Lie/Bet Screen (i.e., Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money? and Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?) can enable law enforcement authorities in identifying individuals with gambling problems from the outset. A positive response to one or both questions is indicative of a gambling problem. Identification of any factors related to criminal activity at the earliest stage of contact (i.e., booking) with the individual is crucial if intervention is intended to impact the greatest number of people. This is due to a phenomenon known as the “funnel effect” where the number of individuals lessens the further one moves through the criminal justice process.”

It should be noted that the Lie/Bet was not developed in order to replace established diagnostic tools used in the field of gambling addiction, such as the South Oaks Gambling Screen and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. The Lie/Bet was devised as a means of providing an easy to use tool (even by those not trained in mental health work) that is highly reliable in identifying individuals who are likely in need of additional and more thorough intervention (including diagnosis).

“This study is a testament to the commitment and leadership of the Florida Lottery in recognizing the importance of this research and providing the funding, alongside the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which established the protocols that enabled the researchers and interviewers to access and gather the required data. Further, the University of South Florida’s Graduate Program assisted the FCCG in recruiting three graduate students in criminology to conduct the interviews. It is precisely this type of joint cooperative effort that made this groundbreaking study possible,” added Fowler.

“It should be noted that while this is a calculation of the problem gamblers among an offender population in Tampa, there is no reason to assume that these findings in Hillsborough County would be any different for any other large urban area throughout the state. The similarity of these findings to those found within Las Vegas support this contention. Moreover, the large percentage of offenders identified in this study as problem or pathological gamblers indicates there is a need to provide intervention. Similarly, as responses are self-reported and typically detainees are reluctant to provide this type of information, the findings should be reviewed strictly as conservative measures. Also, as the Lie/Bet Screen was never intended as a full diagnostic device, but rather as a convenient first line screening device, it may not adequately classify individuals in the early development stages of problematic gambling,” explained the study’s co-researcher and co-author, Dr. Mary Cuadrado.

The study, performed in one major metropolitan area of the state, estimated that more than 10,000 arrestees had gambling problems at the time of arrest. Given that most people who come into contact with the criminal justice system do not wind up going to prison demonstrates how early detection can provide intervention and potential diversion, which could ultimately reduce recidivism rates and lower costs to the state.

Upon examining the types of crimes most often committed by problem gamblers, the study determined that the Lie/Bet Positive gamblers were more likely than those without a gambling problem to be charged with a felony. The most frequent charge identified in the current arrest was for property and drug crimes (31% and 22.8% respectively). Similarly, the most recent national prevalence study (NORC, 1999), as well as general population prevalence studies conducted in Florida by the FCCG among adults (Shapira, Ferguson, Frost-Pineda & Gold, 2002a) and adolescents (2002b) indicate that problem gamblers are more likely to report being arrested than non-problem gamblers. The new study raises the question of whether those with drug and gambling problems should be assigned to a separate gambling court that specializes in these problems or one that combines gambling and substance abuse, which is among one of the study’s recommendations. It also suggests the institutionalization of gambling prevention and treatment programs to prevent further decline for problem gamblers.

“The Department would like to thank everyone involved with this research project,” said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil. “Last year, 37,509 inmates completed their prison sentences and were released into our communities. By addressing the behavior that sent them to prison, inmates are more likely to live crime free lives upon release making our communities safer.”

Another study recommendation outlined the importance of education and training and noted the FCCG’s program for law enforcement, probation, and correctional authorities. A Chance for Change: Gambling Addiction & Crime is a training guide for legal, criminal justice and court professionals. The Program addresses the growing impacts of gambling addiction on crime and outlines common challenges and solutions. It further identifies viable and innovative approaches and alternatives to incarceration, restitution and rehabilitation for compulsive gamblers engaging in illegal activities and is available free of charge to any Florida based organization, institution, or professional. Interested persons need only contact the statewide HelpLine (888-ADMIT-IT) to obtain a free copy.

“It’s certainly valuable to identify factors that may have contributed to criminal activity,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Tampa Bay Special Agent in Charge Jim Madden. “The primary goal in public safety is to try to prevent criminal activity from occurring as well as to put in place the right resources to prevent future incidents.”

“Finally, the study concluded that 32.7% of the arrestee population identified as gamblers, per positive responses to the Lie/Bet Screen, should be referred for further assessment, diagnosis and/or treatment. We now have the ability to implement an early identification strategy that can reduce individual and family hardship, potentially lower recidivism rates and criminal justice costs, and provide services to offenders in need of assistance for a gambling problem. It’s a win-win strategy for law enforcement, governments, communities, and society as a whole,” concluded Paul R. Ashe, Esq. and President of the FCCG’s Board of Directors.

Data was collected on 1,445 arrestees over a 3-month period using the Lie/Bet Questionnaire, in which 959 arrestees agreed to volunteer this information (Volunteers). Additional booking data on the total sample of 1,445 was obtained via the Sheriff’s Office public access website. Interviews were conducted by trained graduate students from the University of South Florida’s Criminology Department and their supervisor who worked in shifts to maximize the kinds of arrest conditions from early morning to late at night covering a sample of each day throughout a week. Interviews were conducted in a private area out of the hearing of the other arrestees and staff. A Spanish version of the questionnaire was available for interviewers to use if necessary. Both questionnaires were pre-tested and modified prior to final approval. The time estimate for each interview was generally only about five minutes since much of the data was obtained or verified at the Sheriff’s website. (See Executive Summary and complete study for additional information, including questionnaires.)

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