|The debate about whether casino gambling is to blame for suicides rages on, and according to a newly released study, the answer appears to be that it doesn’t. |
The study shows that casino gambling has little or no correlation with suicide rates in US communities with casinos. The study, authored by a group of epidemiologists at the University of California, Irvine, and published this month in the academic journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, adds weight to previous research that has failed to find any strong correlation between gambling and suicide.
Las Vegas, which has the highest suicide rate in the nation, has been examined by suicide experts for years. The spread of legalized gambling across the US has led to heightened interest into the casino/suicide debate, says Morton Silverman, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago and editor in chief of the journal.
But there appears little evidence to support the hypothesis that the presence of a casino leads to an increased rate of suicides in the surrounding communities.
'The evidence is not very strong one-way or the other, ' says Silverman.
The study follows up a 2000 analysis by UC Irvine that found no evidence to support a connection between gambling and suicides of visitors to casino resort areas.
Researchers used two methods to look at a possible link between gambling and resident suicides.
The first method compared 1990 suicide rates for residents across 148 metropolitan areas. The analysis compared the Western Mountain region -- an area that includes Nevada along with Utah, Arizona and others and has long had a higher suicide rate than other regions of the country -- against other areas and non-regional factors such as race, age, unemployment rates, accidental deaths and homicides.
The presence of casinos explained only 1% of the differences in suicide rates reported by different regions. Other factors, including race and age, each showed much stronger correlations to suicide rates. Combining such factors explained 99% of the differences in suicide rates, the study found.
The second method, which compared suicide rates for residents before and after years in which gambling was legalized across the country, showed no apparent correlation between the two, authors said. Areas were gambling had been introduced were compared to a 'control group' of areas where gambling had never been legalized.
After legalization, increases in suicide rates were detected in Atlantic County, N.J., and Harrison County, Miss., and fell in Lawrence County, S.D., Douglas-Gilpin County, Colo., and Will County, Ill. In all but Lawrence County, the post-legalization changes were statistically insignificant.
In Lawrence County, the data would support the opposite theory, that a decline in resident suicide was caused by the legalization of gambling. But that theory 'doesn't make a whole lot of sense,' epidemiologist Kenneth Chew, one of the study's authors said. Further studies with a longer 'before' and 'after' period would need to occur to test that theory, he added.
In the control group analysis, six of the seven counties showed no changes in suicide rates before and after the legalization of gambling.
'There are more important things to look at than casino gambling' when determining the factors that affect suicide, Chew concluded.