Kansas City, Mo. A study by Harvard researchers found that about 39,000 Missourians experienced a serious gambling problem in the past year, and Kansas City and St. Louis are epicenters for the state's problem gamblers.
The Port Authority of Kansas City provided a $297,000 grant for the study, which focused on 5,125 Missourians who voluntarily excluded themselves from the state's casinos between late 1996 and early 2004.
Using the threat of prosecution for trespassing, the self-exclusion program bars gamblers from entering Missouri casinos. Missouri's self-exclusion program has been copied in other states, including Iowa.
The study broke new ground by tracing the correlation between self-exclusion rates and gambling disorders. About 3 percent of problem gamblers worldwide seek help, but the study found that number exceeds 13 percent in Missouri.
The study found 318 problem gamblers for every 100,000 people in Jackson County who sought help by excluding themselves from the state's casinos. That compared with 182 self-excluders per 100,000 people in the St. Louis area, and around 50 per 100,000 in the north and central areas of the state.
Southwest Missouri, the only region without a casino, reported only 10 self-excluders per 100,000.
The study found Kansas City to have heaviest concentration of problem gamblers, followed by St. Louis. "We know there is a relationship between opportunity and problems," said Richard LaBrie, one of the study's authors. "There's a very definite clustering of problems where the casinos cluster."
The researchers also found a measurable tapering off of self-exclusion enrollments in the mature gambling markets of Kansas City and St. Louis.
"When gambling is first introduced in an area, you have an emergence of problem gambling," said Kevin Mullally, director of the Missouri Gaming Commission. "But over time you see a declining incidence of problem gambling behavior."
The study was unveiled in Las Vegas and was conducted by the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions, with assistance from the National Center for Responsible Gaming and the Missouri Gaming Commission.
A second phase of the two-year study begins later this year and will examine the effectiveness of self-exclusion by interviewing 750 gamblers in the program.