Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Nov. 1, 1996

Gambling's influence on Iowa's families and towns

Stories by Michelle Johnson
Following is some of the research highlights presented at the College of Family and Consumer Science's "Gambling and the Family" conference Oct. 31. College researchers have been studying the effects of gambling on Iowa families and communities for several months.

Older gamblers like to socialize

A study targeting gamblers 55 years and older revealed that 60 percent set aside up to $20 to spend during each visit to a gambling facility. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they stayed four hours or less per visit. Most older gamblers didn't gamble more than six times a year and 70 percent said they had started gambling within the past 10 years. Researchers found that older gamblers don't frequent gambling facilities expecting big winnings. Instead, they gamble for the social interaction and entertainment.

Researchers: Joyce Mercier, professor; Peter Martin, professor; Wilene Larpenteur-Gradwell, M.S. candidate; Bingham Wall, M.S. candidate. All are in human development and family studies.

Small business retailers still awaiting sales increases

Surveyed Iowans were split on how they felt gambling affects small business. Approximately 30 percent felt gambling positively impacted business, while another 30 percent saw a negative influence. Among those surveyed, younger Iowans and those who gamble were most likely to believe small business is positively affected. Older, retired citizens and non- gamblers were more likely to see a negative impact.

Small business owners in retail apparel, gift and furnishings told researchers they still are waiting for promised benefits to materialize. Rather than patronizing local shops, visitors gamble, eat a meal and leave, said the owners. In addition, the shop owners said residents of riverboat gambling communities are purchasing gambling gifts for family and friends rather than items offered in local shops.

A positive effect of the riverboats has been an increase in local employment opportunities, which has resulted in more money spent locally. When they were asked if they would like to see the riverboats head up river, small business owners answered, "No". Instead, they would like a coordinated promotion of riverboat communities as destinations for gambling, shopping, visiting museums, hiking, eating and staying overnight.

Researchers: LuAnn Gaskill, associate professor and chair; Mary Littrell, professor. Both are in textiles and clothing.

Clinton riverboat not making waves for business owners

Sixty percent of Clinton area business owners indicated there had been no change in their business level due to riverboat gambling. Twelve percent reported an increase in business and 29 percent reported a decrease. Among businesses within one mile of the riverboat, there were more owners indicating a decrease in business than an increase. Among businesses two or more miles away, more owners reported an increase in business than reported a decrease. More than one-third of the business owners agreed the labor market had tightened with the arrival of riverboat gambling.

Researcher: Cathy Hsu, assistant professor, hotel, restaurant, and institution management.

Few out-of-state plates at Prairie Meadows

A survey of license plates taken on one Wednesday and one Saturday in June in the Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino parking lot revealed only 6 percent of the vehicles had out- of-state plates. Of the Iowa license plates with county names listed, about 70 percent on Wednesday and 66 percent on Saturday were Polk County plates.

Researcher: Cathy Hsu, assistant professor, hotel, restaurant, and institution management.

Kids at casinos

Corly Petersen, professor of human development and family studies, found plenty of kids in casinos during a trip to Las Vegas to research issues on children and casinos. Many casinos promote gambling as "family entertainment" and pirate ships, amusement parks and circus acts have helped attract more children to Vegas, Petersen said. Petersen witnessed numerous children inside Vegas casinos, a phenomenon she believes is leading to an increase in underage gambling while creating supervision and security problems.

Petersen also observed casino-provided children's arcades and child care facilities in which some activities were directly modeled after adult gambling. Often, children had to cross casino floors to enter these facilities. She also saw several infants in strollers accompanying parents in Vegas casinos and numerous unattended older children waiting for adults on the edge of casino floors.

Drop-in child care facilities for children of gamblers are expanding rapidly in the gambling industry. Petersen said efforts to lower state licensing standards to facilitate drop-in child care at gambling facilities in Iowa already have been successful.

Researcher: Corly Petersen, professor, human development and family studies.

Some found gambling to cause high debt, family problems

A survey of approximately 1,000 Iowans who attended financial education sessions offered by a Des Moines credit counseling service revealed that more than half said they were gamblers. The average debt of the gamblers who attended the sessions conducted by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Des Moines was $13, 055. Non-gamblers had only $9,961 in debt. Sixteen percent of gamblers and only 6 percent of non-gamblers had a maximum debt over $25,000. The average person surveyed was 38 years old, male, single, had 14 years of education, owned three credit cards and had credit debts and consolidated loans. Maximum total credit card debt among the gamblers was significantly higher than non-gamblers ($265, 000 vs. $82,000).

A second study of six members of an Iowa Gamblers Anonymous organization revealed that gambling had taken a heavy toll on their family relations and finances. Those interviewed gambled several times a week, spending as much as $500 to $1,500 per day. They said their primary reasons to gamble were "to feel a high, to escape" and "to win money." Females interviewed said they gambled "to escape problems and pain."

All six surveyed said that their gambling started casually and progressed into an intense activity with serious financial consequences. One participant reported the loss of a lifetime savings of $10,000. Another said that he had depleted all family assets, worth more than $1 million. Many reported their gambling had a significant impact on family life--some divorced their spouses, stole from their employers, even contemplated suicide.

Researchers: Tahira K. Hira, professor; Kira Monson, M.S. candidate; Cindy Ingram, M.S. candidate. All are in human development and family studies.

ISU students say gambling is fun, but serious business
More than half of approximately 800 ISU students participating in a gambling survey said that they gambled. On average, the students said they spent $50 each time they gambled.

One student who participated in a focus group of 14 ISU graduate and undergraduate students said, "I usually take $30 to $40, but my problem is cash cards and checks. I have gone through about $300 at one time."

Sixty-seven percent of the students surveyed cited "entertainment" as their primary reason for gambling, while only 29 percent cited "winning money." Other reasons cited were "to pass time," "for the challenge" and "peer pressure." Non-gamblers cited many reasons for not gambling including "can't afford it," "not old enough" and "odds are bad."

The most popular gambling activities among students surveyed were the lottery (37 percent), poker (23 percent), casino gambling (22 percent) and sports betting (20 percent).

Seventy-seven percent of the students surveyed said their parents were aware of their gambling. In most cases, the students said their parents also gambled (43 percent of the fathers and 34 percent of the mothers). One-third of the students indicated that their best friends gambled. Eight percent of those surveyed said they had sought help for friends or family members with serious gambling problems.

When asked who should help students with gambling problems, a majority of those interviewed (68 percent) said a statewide phone counseling service 800-BETS-OFF. Approximately half (54 percent) said they thought ISU's Student Counseling Services should provide assistance.

Researchers: Tahira K. Hira, professor; Kira Monson, M.S. candidate; Cindy Ingram, M.S. candidate. All are in human development and family studies.

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