Military Problem Gambling Focus of New Kindbridge Committee

As a former Special Forces medic, Mark Lucia could see the signs.

The cycle of boredom, isolation, and danger inherent in military life often manifested itself in problem behaviors right out in the open, like alcohol abuse or post-traumatic stress. Greater access to gambling through mobile devices has made one of the most insidious of these behaviors much harder to identify: problem gambling.

Kindbridge Institute’s Military Gambling Awareness Committee – with Lucia as chairman – launched today with the aim of “fostering an environment where awareness and proactive measures against gambling-related harms are ingrained in military life.”

“You’re trying to make service members who can go out there and get the job done under the toughest conditions,” Lucia told Gaming Today. “The other side is, I think with this issue in particular, some of the policies within the [Department of Defense] could use updating and maybe a relook or some extra consideration, given how embarrassing it might be for some to admit they’re having financial strain due to problematic gambling or a medical condition gambling disorder, just creating that awareness and allowing that message to filter throughout.

“‘Hey, we’re here and we have services available, people you can talk to.’ That’s one of the things we’re hoping to provide, is best practices and how to approach this problem effectively for the DOD.”

So far, Department of Defense estimates of the problem don’t mesh with other studies.

  • The average prevalence of problem gambling among the military reported by the Department of Defense from in-house studies is 0.25%
  • When reported by a Department of Defense affiliate, like RAND: 1.62%
  • When reported by external research: 41.19%

“When you look at the contrast between the prevalence rates in these different studies, it kind of just leaves you wondering, ‘What is the problem?’,” Lucia said. “We can’t even really write a fair problem description about this. A huge part of this is just trying to nail this down a little bit and then start to push forward and incrementally gain off of it.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that 1% of the US population could be categorized as problem gamblers. NCPG executive director said at the launch of a military-focused initiative in 2021: “We know that active-duty personnel and veterans face higher risks for gambling problems.” Alcoholism and suicide rates in the military are also higher than those of the general public.

Access to gambling as a cheap outlet mirrors that of alcohol in the military. Some US bases in Europe, Japan, and South Korea even house slot machine parlors. One soldier’s struggles with these casino citadels was documented by The Guardian.

A Navy veteran recalled to Gaming Today “lots of card games and from what I understand they got pretty out of hand. Big pots … couple thousand dollars, car keys, etc.”

Soldiers Seek Help For a Problem Military Downplays

The Department of Defense may have more trouble admitting there is a responsible gambling problem than service personnel. Lucia said programs already exist within the branches of the military to address mental health and he was pleasantly surprised how the rank-and-file took advantage of them. He and MGAC want to make sure this continues and broadens.

“When I traditionally had thought of stigma, I always thought of it as top-down,” Lucia recalled. “While I was in, though, I had team sergeants, people that I worked for who were significantly higher-ranked than me would go to health section and access behavioral health services and be very transparent about it. ‘Hey guys, I can’t do this thing today. I have an appointment over at behavioral health.’ It is at the point where the behavioral health section would leave their office door open so the lowest-level soldiers there could see exactly who was walking through the doors.”

But sometimes they required a nudge, or maybe even someone to illuminate a problem they didn’t know existed. Online gambling, where, as Lucia noted “all you need is a 5G connection” can create an addiction that’s much harder to identify and easier to conceal.

“If you have that team sergeant or team member, they’re having a problem with something like alcohol, maybe you see some signs and maybe you say, ‘Hey, do you need a hand?’,” Lucia said. “I was a medic. And so it was easy to say, ‘Hey, do you need somebody to walk over to the behavioral health section with you and just introduce you?’ ” And with [online gambling], you don’t even know to look for it and provide that helping hand.”

The MGAC board:

“The establishment of the Military Gambling Awareness Committee marks a pivotal step in Kindbridge Research Institute’s mission to support the mental health and well-being of our service members,” Dr. Nathan D. Smith, Executive Director of Kindbridge Research Institute said in a release. “By bringing together a diverse group of experts, we aim to identify and address the gaps in current policies and provide comprehensive solutions that will enhance the overall health and readiness of our military personnel.”

Mark Lucia, Chairperson: A Senior Military Research Associate at Kindbridge, Lucia was a Special Forces medic. Earned a dual Master of Business Administration/Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

Brianne Doura-Schawohl, Policy Advisor: Former Vice President of US Policy and Strategic Development for EPIC Risk Management and Legislative Director for the National Council on Problem Gambling with extensive advocacy and governmental affairs experience. Her spouse is a veteran.

Richard Taylor, Gambling Industry Representative: The senior Manager of Responsible Gambling at BetMGM, Taylor is a Marine Corps veteran and has worked with the American Gaming Association’s responsible gaming board.

Joe Solosky, Sports Industry Representative: The Managing Director of Sports Betting at NASCAR, Solosky also worked for data distributor Sportradar and is a US Naval Academy graduate.

Joseph Martin, Technology/Security Expert: The CEO of Kinectify, Martin has extensive experience with risk-management technology and anti-money laundering practices. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Department of State.

Caroline Ponseti, Public Affairs Advisor: The former media relations head at the American Gaming Association and press secretary for the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

David Yeager, Educational Program Developer: An intake specialist and gambling recovery coach at Kindbridge Behavioral Health, Yeager is an 11-year United States Army veteran and gambling addiction recovery advocate.

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Lead Writer
Brant James is a lead writer who covers the sports betting industry and legislation at Gaming Today. An alum of the Tampa Bay Times, ESPN.com, espnW, SI.com, and USA Today, he's covered motorsports and the NHL as beats. He also once made a tail-hook landing on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rode to the top of Mt. Washington with Travis Pastrana. John Tortorella has yelled at him numerous times.

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