Thursday, August 25, 2005

With Riverboat Casinos ...

In Jesusland (think Ben Folds), the gaming issue is in the news again as the anti-gambling forces take some shots at the state funded study that was conducted over the last year and published in June. The QC Times reports…

…Gambling opponents are questioning whether an $87,000 state study focused on the social effects of gambling in Iowa was worth the money.

The Iowa Legislature had ordered the study at the request of anti-gambling groups. Those groups wanted a report detailing the effect of gambling Iowa families and communities before state regulators decided how many new casinos could open in the state.

But Rep. Danny Carroll, R-Grinnell, a gambling opponent, found the final product lacking.

“I guess it probably fulfilled the requirements ... but whether it was worth $87,000, I don’t know,” Carroll said.

The state contracted with the University of Northern Iowa to conduct the study.

Professor Deepak Chhabra of UNI’s School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services, led the study’s research team. The team conducted phone interviews with more than 1,700 Iowans who live within 50 miles of a casino about their views on gambling.

But former state economist Harvey Siegelman, who reviewed the UNI study, was critical of its methodology and said it contained too much unrelated information.

“It was pretty sloppy work. It just was not very good research,” said Siegelman, who called the study a “data dump” in a written report submitted to lawmakers.

Chhabra defended the study, saying it provided the information lawmakers requested.

“My study presented both sides — positive as well as negative,” he said.

Lana Ross, a lobbyist with the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, had wanted the study to better measure a link between gambling and social problems such as bankruptcy, divorce, suicide and alcohol and drug addiction.

“I think it falls short of what I had hoped for and other anti-gambling folk” had hoped for, she said. … (link)

If you really want to read the study, you can find it at the Iowa General Assembly web page (link -- click "committee page", click "additional information" for documents -- they load s-l-o-w). There are a number of documents on the list the most relevant being the final report, peer review comments and rebuttal. Yah, geeky as it seems, we did read…err…skim the study and comments.

Dr. Sieglman is kind 'a tough on Deepak and his team. It’s not an economists study, by any measure, but it still provides some baseline information on what’s going on in the minds of Iowans when they think about gambling. The study is a perceptual study, in other words it asks for respondents’ opinions as opposed to looking at existing hard data for trends and patterns.

Sieglman correctly prefers to use “ex-post” data in measuring the effects of gambling on Iowans and their communities. However, from comments made in the limitations section of the UNI study, the authors suggest that hard data, in the form of historical and panel, was not available. And they stress the lack of cooperation from important sources in economic development, social services and law enforcement in limiting the usefulness of the study. “Everyone seemed reluctant to express either a personal opinion or a view that would be interpreted as representing their agency” pg 24.

Even with the limitations, the authors, using what seem to be reliable survey instruments, demonstrated statistically significant differences in the benefit/cost perceptions between gamblers and non-gamblers and those looking at gambling as a sickness versus not a sickness. Duh. Those particular findings very possibly represent global attitudinal variables such as religious versus non-religious, conservatives versus liberal, etc.

The one causal finding that is interesting, and perhaps important to explore more thoroughly, is the finding of a significant relationship between gambling costs and income. The UNI team found that there is a significant relationship to the views on the cost of gambling and income levels and widowed status. Those single old ladies on SS with “friends” that gamble are very worried about the costs of a gambling habit. This little bit of data, given the large number of over 40 female gamblers, gives any reasonable social service policy type a light bulb moment -- ah, targeting programs to our older female gamblers might payoff in meeting a perceptual need and contribute to a decline in the levels of problem gambling.

In the end, the 87,000 spent on the study is an investment. And, perhaps, the next chunk of money spent on the “gaming issue” will take the advice of both Seiglman and Deepka’s team and look at improving the data sets we use to analyze the issue.

The prevention of underage gambling and identifying and helping problem gamblers is a core objective in running an integrity driven online gambling operation. Gambling at blackjack, or any other online casinos game for that matter is a great form of leisure and entertainment, but for some it can potentially be dangerous.
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