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Study Finds Link Between Suicide and Gambling, With Suicide Rates in Las Vegas, Reno and

December 16, 1997

Study Finds Link Between Suicide and Gambling, With Suicide Rates in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, N.J. Higher Than National Average

David Phillips, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed death certificates in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, N.J., and Reno, Nev., over various time periods.

Las Vegas, which has the highest suicide rate in the nation, had 497 suicides in 1990 _ 187 more than expected in a city that size, Phillips said. The city had a 1990 population of 258,000.

Visitors to Las Vegas also kill themselves at a higher rate, Phillips found. Of every 25 visitors who die, one is a suicide, a rate four times the national average, he found. In Atlantic City, one in every 53 visitor deaths was a suicide. Visitors were defined as somebody in town from another state.

Results of the study, published in this month’s issue of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, were reported today by The New York Times.

The study found a similar pattern of overall suicides in Atlantic City, which legalized gambling in 1978. In 1975, the expected number of suicides in a city that size was 45; Atlantic City had 52, a statistically insignificant difference.

By 1990, with gambling in place for 12 years, the expected number of suicides was still 45, but the actual number jumped to 64, Phillips said.

Phillips said before-and-after analyses couldn’t be done for Reno and Las Vegas because they have had legalized gambling since 1931, and mortality statistics in those cities do not go back that far.

Earlier studies show that compulsive gamblers have such problems as alcoholism and drug abuse that contribute to suicidal behavior, the Times said.

The American Association of Suicidology in Washington praised the study. Its executive director, Dr. Lanny Berman, said the next step would be to compare gamblers and non-gamblers of similar backgrounds over time to determine if gambling is a direct cause of suicide.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association _ which represents major hotel and casino companies _ disputed any link.

He said other studies showed generally higher suicide rates among people moving to the West. Their sense of isolation helps spur any tendency to suicide, not gambling, Fahrenkopf said.

Phillips said that because of the lag in compiling death certificates nationwide, he could not determine whether 24 other states with legalized casino-type gambling have experienced a similar suicide-rate increase.

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