Region Not Prepared to Handle Casino Gambling’s Social Impact, Pitt Study Finds

Issue Date: 
January 22, 2008

A report released today by the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work (SSW) says Allegheny County human service agencies do not have the resources necessary to handle what could be a spike in social problems among people in this region as a result of the new Majestic Star Casino, slated to open in May 2009.

The report, Raising the Stakes: Assessing Allegheny County’s Human Service Response Capacity to the Social Impact of Gambling, surveyed 137 agencies that dealt with addiction-related issues, including mental health, drug and alcohol, and faith-based organizations. The goal was to see if they offered or were preparing to offer gambling prevention, intervention, and treatment services.

Previous studies have linked gambling to mental health disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, harmful family arguments, poor health, job loss, bankruptcy, arrests, and other issues. The report provides a reliable “snapshot” about the preparedness of local agencies.

“We got into this study because most of the public and media discussion were focused on the economic benefits of the new casino and issues such as traffic and parking garages,” said Rafael Engel, a professor in SSW and one of the study investigators. “We felt it was important to examine the potential strain that gambling would bring to human service providers.” Other study investigators are SSW assistant professor Daniel Rosen and SSW director of continuing education Tracy Soska.

The report’s findings suggest:

  • More than 75 percent of the agencies do not screen for or treat problem gambling, nor have they provided such training for staff;
  • Most agencies feel problem gambling is not an issue for their organization; and
  • Fewer than one-third of the agencies are familiar with any state or other public awareness campaign to promote issues relates to problem gambling, and fewer than 10 percent educate clients on problem gambling.

The report made the following recommendations.

  • A comprehensive educational program for service providers be developed that encompasses the nature of gambling disorders, the high co-occurrence with other disorders, and the toll gambling can take on an individual or family.
  • Agencies include items about problem gambling on routine screening procedures.
  • A list of certified gambling counselors be made available to the county’s human service agencies.
  • Additional financial resources from the state, generated by gambling revenue, be allocated to address problem gambling.
  • Reimbursements be made for mental health and substance abuse providers treating gambling disorders.
  • A benchmark study be implemented prior to the opening of the casino, in an effort to monitor county residents’ gambling behavior.

The current plan is for the state to allocate $1.5 million per year for the state to address gambling-related disorders, an amount that researchers feel may not be adequate.

Raising the Stakes was funded through the Staunton Farm Foundation and with the assistance of an advisory committee whose members represent Pitt and various community agencies, foundations, and organizations.