The Vegas shooter and problem gambling

Stephen Paddock’s motives in the Las Vegas massacre remain unclear but officials point to his extensive gambling as a possible factor. Can problem gamblers be better enticed to curb their behavior?

A fixed odds betting terminal in London, Britain, offers some steps to gamblers to help them avoid excessive betting.

Nearly four months after the Las Vegas massacre, investigators have released a preliminary report about the shooter, Stephen Paddock. His motives remain unclear but officials can’t help but point to one possible factor: his extensive gambling in the days before the Oct. 1 killings and the loss of a significant amount of his wealth.

Investigating his motives remains important in order to prevent a similar mass shooting. With 58 people left dead, this massacre at a country music festival was the worst in modern American history. If problem gambling had something to do with it, then a big spotlight should shine on how to boost efforts to help problem gamblers. Last June, a gambling addict in the Philippines killed dozens by setting fire to a casino.

By his own admission in a 2013 deposition, Paddock was “the biggest video poker player in the world.” The retired accountant could wager thousands of dollars during overnight binges. Such behavior suggests it was not innocent pastime.  While the casino industry has ways to catch compulsive and addicted players, its record is mixed and its commercial interests can get in the way. Casinos are designed more to assist gambling than to curtail it.

If Paddock was overcome with rage over his gambling losses, were there people and services that should have offered a welcoming hand?

A surprising number of gamblers actually request help or offer to be blocked from a gaming site. In a large survey of gamblers by the British group Citizens Advice, more than 3 in 4 gamblers said they had tried self-exclusion.

“Whilst the majority of those who had tried it found it effective to some extent, 19 percent found it not at all effective,” states the group’s Jan. 23 report, titled “Out of Luck: An exploration of the causes and impacts of problem gambling.” In Britain, the online gambling industry plans to improve its procedures for self-exclusion this spring while the government pushes for protections on gaming machines.

Nearly half of the gamblers in the survey who had handed over control of their finances to other people found it to be an effective deterrent. Many others welcomed blocking software offered on online gambling sites and said it was useful.

“It is essential that gamblers and affected others are aware of the more in-depth help that is available to them and that they know how to access it,” the report recommends.

The reasons for offering more help were made clear by the survey.

For every problem gambler, between six and 10 additional people (such as friends, family or co-workers) are directly affected, the report states. Two-thirds of gamblers reported mental distress and high debts. A fifth of families with a problem gambler have been unable to afford food at times.

The top factor in problem gambling, according to the report, is “ease of access to and lack of restrictions on gambling.” Helping a gambler to self-exclude requires a number of actors to step up. The gambling industry can be better at using data and technology to identify and help problem gamblers. Creditors can spot rising debt and suggest counseling. Governments can be more aggressive in regulating the industry.

Problems gamblers are often seen as helpless in making a choice to curb or end their behavior. That is a questionable assumption. Self-control is possible for gamblers. The Las Vegas massacre might yet become a lesson in making that point more well known.

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