Finkeldey research examines gambling disorder-criminal behavior association

Roger Coda
Dr. Jessica Finkeldey

Dr. Jessica Finkeldey

Department of Sociocultural and Justice Sciences Assistant Professor Jessica Finkeldey and two fellow researchers generated valuable insight into the association between problem gambling and criminal behavior that undermines a commonly held assumption – that gambling disorders can lead to criminal outcomes.

It’s plausible that the same characteristics associated with problem gambling are also associated with crime, Dr. Finkeldey explained, which is an issue in research referred to as confounding bias.

“In other words, as opposed to problem gambling causing crime, we thought there might be underlying factors in a ‘generality of deviance’ that predict both,” Finkeldey said.

The study by University at Buffalo Assistant Professor Christopher Dennison, Ball State University Assistant Professor Gregory Rocheleau and Finkeldey assessed the role of confounding bias in the relationship between problem gambling and criminal behavior. “Ultimately, we found evidence that problem gambling doesn’t necessarily cause crime; rather, the two are co-symptomatic,” Finkeldey said.

What they concluded was that background characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, early delinquency and low self-control, were associated with problem gambling and crime.

“After accounting for these factors, problem gambling no longer appeared to predict crime,” Finkeldey said. “Our findings are significant since they suggest that early prevention/intervention efforts targeted at those with a likelihood for general deviance might reduce both problem gambling and crime.”

These findings contrast with commonly held beliefs about the connection between problem gambling and crime.

“On the one hand, researchers often rely on theories suggesting that problem gamblers might turn to crime (and more specifically financially-motivated crimes) as a means to cope with gambling-related hardships,” Finkeldey explained. “On the other hand, one of the most prominent criminological theories – the general theory of crime – contends that low self-control (e.g., seeking risky behavior, an inability to control impulse) is the strongest predictor of criminal offending across the life course.”

Observing that characteristics indicative of low self-control also resonates with problem gambling, the three researchers felt that the association between gambling and crime might be explained by something like low self-control, as well as other common background characteristics shared between those who engage in problem gambling and those who engage in crime.

Researchers, Finkeldey indicated, commonly suggest that the relationship between problem gambling and crime might be confounded, and it is the hope of Finkeldey and her colleagues that their study will shed light on this debate with a nationally representative sample.

The larger implications of the trio’s conclusions suggest that it may be effective to implement strategies aimed at reducing risky behavior in general, instead of strategies specific to gambling behaviors.

“Given the overlapping predictors of problem gambling and crime, practices/programs designed to strengthen decision-making abilities, increase involvement in prosocial structured activities and reduce disadvantage among at-risk youth and young adults may simultaneously reduce a variety of problem behaviors,” Finkeldey said.

Secondary data from a National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health study that interviewed more than 21,000 adolescents in 1994-1995 and subsequently interviewed them again between the ages of 18-26 and 25-34 was used by the three researchers.

Their study, “Confounding Bias in the Relationship between Problem Gambling and Crime,” will appear in the Journal of Gambling Studies and can be viewed online ahead of publication.

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