The WAGER 6(9) – Problem Gambling and Community Service


Prevalence studies are a vital tool used to measure pathological (level 3) gambling among the general population. However, these studies often fail to capture information about vulnerable population segments such as prisoners, heavy gamblers who might not be available to participate in prevalence research, and homeless persons (Lesieur, 1994). Research conducted by Lepage, Ladouceur, and Jacques (2000) considered some of these subgroups; specifically, the prevalence of level 3 gambling among those who depend on community organizations for food, material, and/or financial assistance.

Volunteer adult research participants (n=87) were recruited randomly from seven community organizations located throughout Quebec, Canada. Eighty-four percent of participants received some form of social assistance, and each depended upon a community organization at least once over a consecutive three-month period. All participants were administered the South Oaks Gambling Screen
(SOGS) (Lesieur & Blume, 1987) verbally to compensate for those who were illiterate.

The results of this research support the notion that prevalence rates for level 3 gambling are higher among those who receive services from community organizations than the general population. Specifically, Lepage et al. (2000) found that the lifetime prevalence of "probable pathological" gambling (i.e., a score of 5 or more on the SOGS) among those dependent upon community organizations is 17.2%; the prevalence of level 3 gambling among the general population from this area is 2.1% (Ladouceur et al., 1999). Moreover, among those identified as level 3 gamblers, 21% reported past attendance at a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting. Sixty percent, however, reported they were unaware such resources existed (Lepage et al., 2000).

Lapage et al. (2000) note that level 3 gambling prevalence studies might overlook some specific high-risk subgroups within the general population. However, their estimates remain tentative due to methodological concerns. For instance, while Lapage et al. (2000) administered the SOGS orally to include all illiterate participants, the researchers fail to address what might be the effects of orally administering a questionnaire originally designed for respondents to complete in written form. Specifically, participants-both literate and illiterate-might have experienced interviewers in a way that biased their responses, thus yielding lower estimates if social desirability was a factor and higher estimates if anti-social forces were operative.

Additionally, any estimate for level 3 gambling among persons dependent upon community organizations might not be wholly accurate since these estimates rest upon a self-selected sample that was reliant upon the organization hosting the data collection. Thus, these estimates might not apply to level 3 gamblers within community organizations in general or special population segments (e.g., homeless) that are often overlooked during epidemiological research.

Despite these methodological limitations, Lapage et al. (2000) remind us to pay closer attention to vulnerable and high-risk population segments that likely have higher than expected rates of gambling disorders. This research also encourages care providers to screen for gambling disorders in every setting that provides community services and to make recipients of these services aware of other self-help opportunities.

[1] Because a considerable number of Quebec residents speak French, the French version of the SOGS was used (Ladouceur, 1991, 1996).


Ladouceur, R. (1991). Prevalence estimates of pathological gamblers in Quebec, Canada. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 36, 732-734.
Ladouceur, R. (1996). The prevalence of pathological gambling in Canada. Journal of Gambling Studies, 12, 129-142.
Ladouceur, R., Jacques, C., Ferland, F., & Giroux, I. (1999). Prevalence of problem gambling in Quebec: seven years after the first prevalence study. Unpublished manuscript.
Lapage, C., Ladouceur, R., & Jacques, C. (2000). Prevalence of problem gambling among community service users. Community Mental Health Journal, 36(6), 597-601.
Lesieur, H. R. (1994). Epidemiological surveys of pathological gambling: critique and suggestions for modification. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 385-397.
Lesieur, H. R., & Blume, S. B. (1987). The South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS): a new instrument for the identification of pathological gamblers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1184-1188.

The WAGER is a public education project of the Division on Addictions at Harvard Medical
School. It is funded, in part, by the National Center for Responsible Gaming, the
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Addiction Technology Transfer Center of
New England, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

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