There are several examples of prevention efforts in the field of pathological gambling, among them teaching gamblers about the odds of the games they play, providing help-line services, and developing public and youth awareness campaigns about the potential risks associated with gambling (American Gaming Association, 1998). However, nothing is known yet about the effectiveness of these efforts.
A clear challenge for developing effective ways to prevent problem gambling is the lack of awareness of the dangers of excessive gambling. In one sense, programs to prevent substance abuse have it easy; the dangers of illicit drug use are relatively easy to identify. With gambling, it's not so easy. Placing a bet does not readily produce immediate adverse effects. Family members may find it harder to detect the effects of excessive gambling by a loved one compared with drug use or smoking. Moreover, advertising for state lotteries and casinos suggest that gambling is a harmless form of recreation. Youth programs receive funding from gambling, such as bingo and raffles, thus further lending support to the notion that gambling is a beneficial activity (Wynne et al., 1996). Many states use advertising and promotional campaigns to foster the acceptance of gambling. They do this by (1) portraying gambling as family entertainment or social recreation, (2) emphasizing community needs for the tax revenues generated, (3) altering the norms surrounding the behavior, so as not to make it deviant, and (4) centering gambling advertisements around successful gamblers (Preston et al., 1998).
Perhaps the most concerted prevention efforts have been directed toward adolescents. Targeting young people makes sense from a public health perspective because gambling often begins early, and thus may act as a gateway to future excessive gambling (Shaffer and Hall, 1994). We found only one youth prevention program that has been empirically evaluated. Gaboury and Ladouceur (1993) describe a three-session program in Quebec organized around an alcohol prevention model. It covered an overview of gambling, discussions of legal issues, how the gambling industry manipulates the chances of winning, beliefs and myths about gambling, and the development of pathological gambling