Gambling and Suicide

For millions of Americans, gambling addiction has become a pathway to pain and misery; for some it leads to death. Gambling-related suicides have become an increasingly common phenomenon, as legalized gambling has spread across America. The extent of this phenomenon remains largely unrecognized, however, due to a variety of reasons, ranging from a desire by surviving family members to protect privacy to attempts by suicide victims to make their deaths appear accidental for insurance purposes. Even so, the evidence beginning to come forth paints a grim picture of the depth of despondency which often accompanies a gambling addiction.

  • February 2003 news reports said support for a proposed downtown casino expansion in Alberta, Canada is in trouble after statistics revealed an alarming link between gambling and suicides. Medical examiners suspect that at least one out of every 10 suicides is gambling-related.[1]
  • A 2001 South Carolina study found that 5 percent of those playing video poker considered suicide because of their debt.[2]
  • In 1999, more than 429 Nevada residents committed suicide according to the Donrey Washington Bureau. Nevada has consistently held the highest suicide rate for more than 10 years.[3]
  • In a 1997 study, a University of California-San Diego sociologist found that "visitors to and residents of gaming communities experience significantly elevated suicide levels." According to Dr. David Phillips, Las Vegas "displays the highest levels of suicide in the nation, both for residents of Las Vegas and for visitors to that setting." In Atlantic City, N.J., Phillips found that "abnormally high suicide levels for visitors and residents appeared only after gambling casinos were opened."[4]
  • In Gulfport, Mississippi, suicides increased by 213 percent (from 24 to 75) in the first two years after casinos arrived. In neighboring Biloxi, suicide attempts jumped by 1,000 percent (from 6 to 66) in the first year alone.[5]
  • The National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies, reports that one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide — a rate higher than for any other addictive disorder.[6]
  • At least 140 clients at Minnesota's six gambling addiction treatment centers have attempted suicide, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The paper confirmed six gambling-related suicides in that state, but noted that the six are "almost certainly a fraction of the total number," given that authorities often do not ascertain motives in suicide cases.[7]
  • A survey of nearly 200 Gamblers Anonymous members in Illinois found that 66 percent had contemplated suicide, 79 percent had wanted to die, 45 percent had a definite plan to kill themselves, and 16 percent had actually attempted suicide.[8]
  • Authorities in Montreal, Canada, officially linked four suicides and a murder-suicide to gambling problems at the Montreal Casino within the first three years of its opening.[9]
  • The Illinois Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that more than 20 Illinois residents have killed themselves as a result of a gambling addiction since casinos arrived.[10]
  • Multiple casino-related suicides also have been reported in various others states, including Iowa, Missouri and Connecticut.[11]

Footnotes

1 Sue Bailey and Louise Elliott, "New Numbers Link Gambling, Suicide," Canadian Press, 2/23/03.

2 Wayne C. Wehunt, (Columbus) Ledger-Enquirer, 9/29/01.

3 Rachel Myer, "Suicide Attack Strategy Unveiled," Donrey Washington Bureau, 5/3/01.

4 David P. Phillips, Ward Welty, and Marisa Smith, "Elevated Suicide Levels Associated with Legalized Gambling," Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, vol. 27, December 1997, p. 373.

5 Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., "The House Never Loses and Maryland Cannot Win: Why Casino Gaming Is a Bad Idea," Report on the Impact of Casino Gaming on Crime, October 16, 1995, p. 7.

6 National Council on Problem Gambling, Inc., "The Need for a National Policy on Problem and Pathological Gambling in America," November 1, 1993, p. 7.

7 Chris Ison, "That Last Losing Bet Often Is More Than Some Can Take," (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, December 3, 1995, p. 18A.

8 Henry R. Lesieur and Christopher W. Anderson, "Results of a 1995 Survey of Gamblers Anonymous Members in Illinois (N=184)," Illinois Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling, June 14, 1995.

9 Lynn Moore, "Coroner's File on Gambling Suicides Grows Longer," (Montreal) Gazette, January 11, 1997, p. A4.

10 Christopher Anderson (interview), executive director, Illinois Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling, May 1, 1998; Laura Gatland, "Paying to Play," Crain's Small Business Chicago, October 1, 1996, p. 24.

11 Dirk Johnson, "More Casinos, More Players Who Bet Until They Lose All," New York Times, September 25, 1995, p. A1; Charles Bosworth, Jr., "Man Whose Wife Killed Herself Over Gambling Builds New Life," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 8, 1995, p. 1B; Tim O'Neil, "Police Tie Suicide, Gambling," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 24, 1996, p. 1A; United Press International, "Body Identified as Suicide Victim," May 7, 1996; Keith Chrostowski, "Downward Slide Ends in Anguish, Suicide," Kansas City Star, March 10, 1997, p. A11; "Relative: Death at Casino Was Suicide," Hartford Courant, March 12, 1998, p. B6; Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, "A Woman's Life Lost to Gambling," Boston Globe, March 9, 1996, sec. Metro, p. 13.