Gambling and military Service: Characteristics, comorbidity, and problem severity in an epidemiological sample

November, 2020

This article reports on a study examining gambling activities and related comorbidities in a sample of New Jersey residents to compare rates of problem gambling severity by gender between military and civilian participants.

Consistent with findings in prior studies, rates of moderate and severe problem gambling among military members in this sample were more than double the rates for civilians. In addition, rates of gambling participation and online gambling in this study were significantly higher among military versus civilian participants. Notably, active military members reported the highest rates of moderate to severe problem gambling, even compared to veterans, and they were significantly more likely to prefer and patronize online gambling sites. In addition, active duty members gambled significantly more across all gambling activities compared to the other groups, suggesting that the well-documented additive effect of gambling frequency across forms would put this group particularly at risk for serious gambling-related harm.

Those with lower levels of educational attainment and lower household income as well as some minority ethnic groups were particularly at risk, although, for those identifying as Black, the risk was possibly limited to those with more limited economic resources. Also of import, while women showed lower problem gambling scores overall, women in the military reported significantly higher problem gambling scores than their male counterparts. This suggests that women in the military, an understudied group, may be most at risk for serious consequences from gambling but least likely to be identified through normal channels. This finding supports previous research finding higher rates of problem gambling among women in samples of military members.


Active military members and veterans both show elevated risk of Gambling Disorder. However, research comparing these groups to civilians in epidemiological samples is sparse. There is also some research suggesting that there is a stronger association between military service and poor mental outcomes for women. The current study applies bivariate analyses and generalized linear modelling predicting Problem Gambling Severity Index scores to a representative, complex survey sample of 2176 New Jersey adult residents. The results show that problem gambling scores for past and current military service members were more than double that of the civilian participants after controlling for relevant demographic and behavioral characteristics. Additionally, the relationship between problem gambling scores and military service was significantly stronger for women than men. Bivariate analyses indicated that active military service members scored higher on the Problem Gambling Severity Index, indicated greater weekly participation in online gambling, lottery, electronic gambling machine, and sports betting, and nearly 20 times the rate of suicidal ideation compared with civilians. Additional regression analysis show that among military service members problem gambling scores were associated with suicidal ideation, tobacco use, and substance use problems. The results are discussed in the context of a period of expansion of online gambling opportunities. Constrained options for leisure coupled with the high propensity for risk taking among military service members and the relative ease of concealing online gambling on base may expose military service members to disproportionately higher risk of Gambling Disorder.

Full Reference

ven der Maas, M., and Nower, L (2020) Gambling and military Service: Characteristics, comorbidity, and problem severity in an epidemiological sample. Addictive Behaviours, article in press

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