In January 2000 an off-duty police officer shot and killed himself at a high-stakes blackjack table at a Detroit casino after losing more than $15,000 in one afternoon.
The possible link between casino gambling and suicide rates has been the subject of much study over the years. A study done in 1997 at the University of California at San Diego concluded that cities with casino gambling had suicide rates that were four times those of comparably sized cities without casino gambling. However, researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, reported in 2000 that only 3% of the suicides that occurred in Las Vegas between 1990 and 1999 were directly related to gambling. The study concluded that mental, emotional, and physical health issues were more likely the major factors.
Nevada, a state in which gambling is widely practiced, has the highest suicide rate in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate in Nevada in 1999 was 22.3 suicides per 100,000 population. (See Table 6.3.) This is more than twice the national average of 10.7 per 100,000 population. However, many mental health experts attribute Nevada's high suicide rate to the huge inflow of new residents who lack a support system of family and friends. Loneliness and despair are more likely to overwhelm such people than those who have an emotional safety net in place. In general, suicide rates are higher in the western states than in any other region. Even Utah, which allows no legal gambling, was among the fifteen states with the highest suicide rates in 1999, with a rate of 13.2 suicides per 100,000 population.
A study published in July 2002 (Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior) found little to no correlation between suicide rates and the presence of casino gambling in U.S. communities. The study, which was performed by epidemiologists at the University of California at Irvine, compared the 1990 suicide rates of 148 metropolitan areas in different regions of the country. The results indicated that the presence of casinos could account for only 1% of the regional differences in suicide rates. Researchers also compared "before and after" suicide rates for cities in
Suicide rate, 1999
Number of Suicides
Note: Suicide rate per 100,000 population in each state in 1999.
SOURCE: Adapted from Donna L. Hoyert, Elizabeth Arias, Betty L. Smith, Sherry L. Murphy, and Kenneth D. Kochanek, "1999 Suicide Rate by State," in Deaths: Final Data for 1999, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Report, vol. 49, no. 8, September 21, 2001
which gambling had been legalized. Although increased suicide rates were noted in Atlantic County, New Jersey, and Harrison County, Mississippi, after the advent of gambling, the increases were not considered statistically significant. In fact, suicide rates experienced a significant drop in Lawrence County, South Dakota, after casino gambling was introduced in the town of Deadwood.
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