National Survey on Gambling Attitudes and Gambling Experiences

Executive Summary

Gambling in the U.S. and Key Findings of the National Detailed Report

As of November, 2019, government-sponsored lotteries existed in 45 states and the District of Columbia1 (North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, 2019).

Casinos operated by corporations or Native American tribes existed in 43 (American Casino Guide, 2019).

Many states allow various forms of gambling to benefit charities.
Wagering on horse races takes place in 30 states.

Online gambling of various types, while only legal in a few states, is nonetheless available to anyone with access to a computer.

Sports betting, long restricted to Nevada, is expanding rapidly following the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy vs National Collegiate Athletic Association to overturn federal prohibitions and allow states to legalize sports betting. As of February 2021, sports betting was operational in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and had been legalized but not yet implemented in four others. Legal sports wagers in the U.S. reached $1.4 billion in September 2019 (Barrabi, 2019).

Fantasy sports is widely available despite its murky legal status (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015).

In response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Murphy case, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) commissioned a national survey to measure the extent of gambling in the United States prior to the rapid expansion of sports betting, the National Survey on Gambling Attitudes and Gambling Experiences (NGAGE). The survey was taken in November 2018, a time when legal sports betting was only available in Nevada and New Jersey.

Key Findings

  1. Gambling is a very popular American pastime. Three in four American adults report some type of gambling in the year preceding the survey. Only 12 percent claim to never have gambled.
  2. Most gamblers bet on more than one activity, with the average American gambler betting on three different activities.
  3. Legal prohibitions or restrictions on gambling have minimal effect on gambling participation. Even in the two states that allow no legal gambling (Hawaii and Utah), more than half the adults report some gambling activity in the past year. One in five Americans placed a sports bet despite it being legalized in only two states at the time of the survey, many of them online or through bookmakers. And 15 percent reported making an online wager.
  4. The lottery is the most popular form of gambling, with two out of three survey respondents reporting a past year lottery purchase. More than one-third of the sample reported spending money at a casino.
  5. Most who gamble appear to do so without negative consequences. While for methodological reasons the survey was not designed to assess the rate of gambling disorder, 70 percent of gamblers reported never experiencing any of the four risky gambling behaviors covered by the survey. However, 7 percent reported experiencing at least one of these behaviors “many times,” with most of these reporting only one frequent problematic behavior.
  6. Young adults appear to be at higher risk for gambling problems. Half of those under 35 responded “yes” to at least one indicator of risky behavior. By contrast only 10 percent of gamblers over the age of 65 responded “yes” to at least one indicator.
  7. Sports bettors appear to be at particularly high risk. They are three or more times as likely than those gamblers who did not bet on sports to report frequent risky behavior. Those betting weekly on sports are five or more times more likely to report frequent risky behavior. These disparities are even greater for those playing fantasy sports. We do not know, however, if sports betting results in risky behavior, or if those who are more prone to risky behavior are drawn to sports betting.
  8. A considerable number of gamblers do not understand the way gambling works, with 16 percent believing that gambling is a good way to make money. Similar numbers believe that gambling more often will help them win more than they lose, or that their chances of winning get better after they’ve lost. These misconceptions are more common among those playing games with a skill component, such as sports betting or cards.
  9. A large share of the population misunderstands or stigmatizes problem gambling. More than half of those surveyed attribute gambling problems at least in part to moral weakness or lack of willpower, while fewer than one half believe it can result from genetics or a medical condition.

This report summarizes the detailed findings of the NGAGE survey on the national level. We are working to replicate this survey in coming years to measure the effect of readily available sports betting on the public’s gambling behavior and attitudes.

Further suggested reading:

Implications for Public Policy and Directions for Future Research from the National Detailed Report

Download the entire NGAGE 1.0 National Detailed Report (pdf) from the National Detailed Report tab above.

How to access detailed state reports

Overview of trends at the national level
Overview of trends in each state may be accessed from the State Trends tab on the home page.

For more information about NCPG and our full range of programs and services in Advocacy, Awareness and Assistance in problem gambling and responsible gambling, please visit our main website at NCPG is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization funded by members and donors; we receive no US Federal funding.