Betting on Black and White: Race and the Making of Problem Gambling
Problem gambling, a fairly recent addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is estimated to affect between two and five percent of the US adult population (Volberg 2001). While present in all racial groups, this disorder is not evenly distributed, as Blacks are more likely than any other group to become problem gamblers (Welte et al. 2006). And while this pattern is consistent with those found with other disorders (Black 1984; Ford and Widiger 1989; Strakowski et al. 1993), it is important to note that thirty years ago, when the first study of problem gambling prevalence was conducted and the disease had only recently been institutionalized, there was no difference in rate of illness by race (Kallick et al. 1979). This dissertation aims to explore this phenomenon: the role of race in the making of problem of gambling.
Through a multi-site and multi-method approach, this study examines the assumed race neutrality of gambling addiction. By tracing the history of gambling policy and North Carolina's adoption of a lottery program, this study explores how the state further defined problem gambling as a mental illness. Following this, participant observation of state-sponsored problem gambling counselor training workshops provides insight into the ways racialized understandings of behavior are constructed and maintained through counselor education. To gain a sense of how gambling is lived, this study involves participant observation of lottery gambling in convenience stores to interrogate racialized conceptions of behavior and reveal how financial gain motivates gambling across groups.
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