Vice Squad
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Gambling and Other Vices

The British Gambling Prevalence Survey that we mentioned yesterday looked into smoking and drinking as well as gambling behavior. The unsurprising bottom line: smokers and heavy drinkers gamble more than others, and they also are more likely to be problem gamblers. For instance, 67 percent of current smokers play the National Lottery (that is, played at some point during the previous year), while only 54 percent of non-smokers play; 23 percent of smokers play slots, versus 12 percent of non-smokers. The alcohol question concerned how many drinks that the respondent consumed during their heaviest drinking day in the past week. Broadly speaking, the more they drank, the more they gambled. Of people who claimed that their largest day of consumption during the past week involved twenty or more units (! -- a unit is the amount of alcohol in a 12-ounce beer, a five ounce glass of wine, or a shot of liquor), 68 percent played the National Lottery during the previous year, while the overall percentage was 57 percent; 18 percent of these big bingers placed bets with bookmakers, versus 6 percent of the overall population.

Smokers were 3.5 times as likely to be problem gamblers than non-smokers, and heavy drinkers faced even steeper increases in problem gambling prevalence relative to their light-drinking peers.

Our old friend Bingo has some anomalous characteristics. First, unlike most forms of gambling, it is dominated by women. Second, and not anomalously, smokers are about twice as likely to play Bingo than are non-smokers -- this is about the same as with slot machine players, and helps to explain why casinos and Bingo parlours are particularly vulnerable to smoking bans. Third, Bingo participation does not appear to vary with drinking status -- about seven or eight percent of people play Bingo, whether we are talking about light drinkers or big bingers or the population at large.

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