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Emily D. Swoboda

Q & A: Christine Reilly

25 June 2007

In May, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., introduced legislation proposing a comprehensive one-year study of Internet gambling by the National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences. The proposed study would examine several aspects of gaming, including existing legal frameworks in the United States and abroad, gambling addiction and the impact of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), enacted in October 2006.

Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at Cambridge Health Alliance's Division on Addictions (at Harvard Medical School), spoke at this year's Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo (GIGSE) on the topic of using real scientific research to understand the health risks of online gambling addiction.

Harvard Medical School recently released the results of a study on the gambling behaviors of sports-betting customers of European online gaming site bwin. Researchers found that of the 40,499 subjects, only the top 1 percent exhibited behavior that could be deemed a minor gambling problem.

IGN sat down with Reilly to discuss the viability of Berkley's proposed study.

IGN: You mentioned in your presentation at GIGSE that often times gambling studies can be motivated by political or personal agendas. How tied-in with the government is the National Academy of Sciences?

Reilly: The National Academy of Sciences is totally independent. In fact, that was probably the best money spent by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (1999). My boss was on the panel for that. In fact, the book that came out of that, called Pathological Gambling: Critical Review, is still a really helpful text to have. They did a really excellent job. And they did a good job in spite of the fact that there wasn't a lot of good research out there. Even though there's not a lot of research out there about Internet gambling, we're getting there. Our article is just the first of many that's going to be coming out. Plus, sometimes a study like that can really set the stage for future research because they'll get the best scientists involved. I think it would be really interesting if they not only get scientists who not only specialists in addiction, but people who are studying the role of technology in our lives. That would be a terrific group.

The one they did in '99, knowing from my boss's participation in that one--Howard Shaffer--it was extremely independent. People on it really didn't have an axe to grind. These people were just scientists or economists, or what have you. They were just there to make sure that things were done well.

IGN: So, do you think Berkley's proposal is feasible?

Reilly: I think, actually, that it would be excellent. I think the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council have an excellent track record. They only get the best people; I think it could only help.

Now, it'll be a little harder in some ways, but like I said, I don't think you should just look at Internet gambling. You need to look at the whole range of the question: "What do we know about our relations with technology?" That would be the way I would go . . . as well as what we already know about addiction and gambling addiction. And the addiction field has grown, so I think there's already a lot to go on.

IGN: According to the text of the bill, the NAS would study about 10 aspects of Internet gambling, including addiction, financial and technology. So, essentially, they would assemble experts from different fields?

Reilly: You can definitely look at that issue from just taxation, for example. I know that the NRC panel that was formed for the Gambling Impact was on gambling addiction, as well as social and economic impact of gambling, so I guess you can get a broad enough group together.

IGN: What is your affiliation with the National Center for Responsible Gambling?

Reilly: The institute here is funded by the National Center for Responsible Gambling, which is a non-profit that receives funding mainly from U.S. casino companies. They were set up to support research and education on problem gambling . . . and awarded a contract to Harvard Medical School to set up a research institute that would support the research of Dr. Shaffer and his colleagues, run an extramural program, make grants to other institutions and also help with the educational programming. So, the NCRG merely delegated all of those responsibilities to us, which in a sense provides another firewall because we don't ask their permission on what we publish. We are very free with the extramural grants. I let a peer-review panel make the decisions. So it just provides some distance between us and the funding source, and their funding sources

Q & A: Christine Reilly is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda