The Term ‘Problem Gambler’ May Soon Be Inappropriate, Group Says

As the U.S. online gambling industry continues to grow rapidly, advocates argue for avoiding "stigmatizing" descriptors for problem play.
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The U.S. casino industry is rushing into the online gambling realm in a post-PASPA world, leveraging the sports betting ruling to also lobby for online casino and online poker.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of the federal sports betting prohibition came less than three years ago. Some states did kick off forms of regulated gambling over the web prior to the ruling, but SCOTUS opened the floodgates.

With the opportunity for companies to make a lot of money comes great risk for players who exhibit problematic betting behavior. There’s a lot of technical criteria used to discuss what constitutes problem gambling.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts-based International Center for Responsible Gaming said in a blog post that some of the language used to talk about problem gambling may need to be dramatically reworked.

Citing a recent editorial in a journal called International Gambling Studies, the ICRG said some of the most common terms used to address the issue might need to hit the waste bin because they have “negative connotations” that could “impact the sufferers of these conditions.” The thinking is to avoid “use of stigmatizing descriptors in gambling studies.” It could reduce the chances someone seeks help.

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As far as addictions go, gambling is widely regarded as one of the easiest to hide from friends and family.

What terms are problematic?

“In the past, the term ‘pathological gambler’ was used, and recently, ‘disordered gambler’ and ‘problem gambler’ have been used to refer to someone meeting diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder,” the blog post stated. “At this time, a phrase such as ‘problem gambler’ is not seen as inappropriate, but may become so in the future, such as ‘pathological gambler’ has in recent years.”

The idea is apparently to avoid these “shorthand descriptors” in studies, though it’s not entirely clear what should be used in their place for journalists and other media in the fledgling U.S. online gambling industry. In the process of crafting gambling laws and regulations, state policymakers and regulators often use “problem gambler” and other similar terms, which then make their way into press coverage.

“The main goal of this editor’s note is to make authors aware of the damage certain terms can have, and to ask authors to actively employ language that promotes respect and dignity for the target subjects,” said the blog post. “The authors recommend the following terms be avoided: ‘problem gambler,’ ‘disordered gambler,’ ‘disordered gambling,’ ‘pathological gambler,’ ‘pathological gambling,’ ‘addicted gambler,’ ‘impaired gambler,’ ‘compulsive gambler,’ or ‘self-excluded gambler.’ The authors note, however, that many of these terms may be used when citing exact text of previous literature.”

This is all a suggestion, per the post, “to encourage members of the gambling studies community to use careful consideration in the use of stigmatizing phrases when publishing works.”

Recovery is the key word in all of this, per the blog post.

“Problem gambling” still OK?

It appears that “problem gambling” as a description of the behavior itself (not the individual) isn’t an issue. In other words, “Joe suffers from problem gambling” would be acceptable, while “Joe is a problem gambler” is something to avoid. That seems pretty straightforward.

The most prominent group on the responsible gambling front in the U.S. is the National Council on Problem Gambling, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. The word “problem” with regard to gambling doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon (not to imply that it should).

NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte said several years ago his group updated its language guidelines to remove “problem gambler.” The NCPG was ahead of the curve here.

“The term ‘problem gambler’ is stigmatizing, and we don’t use it either,” Whyte told US Bets via email on Wednesday. “We use ‘problem gambling’ as a broad descriptor of the issue and prefer ‘person with a gambling problem’ when talking about someone with an issue.”

Just like “alcoholic” in reference to a person with a drinking problem isn’t ever going to go away from the popular vernacular, “problem gambler” probably isn’t either. That said, media should be cognizant of the potential stigmatizing impact as the U.S. online gambling industry continues to unfold.

Image via Shutterstock

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