Only a tiny fraction of US military servicemembers have been diagnosed with gambling disorders, although government watchdogs suggest that the military isn’t really looking that hard for symptoms.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Monday that examined Department of Defense (DOD) data on gambling disorder prevalence among DOD and Coast Guard (CG) servicemembers.
The data identified 514 active-duty servicemembers and 72 more in the reserves that were either diagnosed with gambling disorders or were treated for problem gambling in the Military Health System in fiscal years 2011 through 2015. The GAO says the figures represent less than 0.03% of average servicemembers in each year.
However, the GAO noted that neither the DOD nor the CG systematically screen for gambling disorder the way they do for substance abuse, which the military says is because they focus on “mental-health disorders that are high risk to overall readiness.”
The DOD says its substance abuse guidance “implicitly” covers gambling disorder, but the GAO says that without specifically targeting gambling abuse, the military risks being unable to identify problem gambling activity, which the GAO believes can also “pose a risk to individual readiness” due to a preoccupation with financial hardship or potential legal issues.
(This wasn’t in the GAO report, but other mental preoccupations that could potentially threaten the US military’s overall readiness could be, say, if a foreign government had a compromising video of the US Commander in Chief and a bunch of Slavic hookers engaging in watersports in a hotel.)
The GAO report offered eight recommendations, including that the DOD incorporate gambling disorder questions into its screening process. However, the DOD rejected this due to the data showing the disorder’s low prevalence, to which the GAO responded by saying (we’re paraphrasing) that the prevalence could be low because you’re not asking the fucking questions.
The US military was publicly shamed in 2015 when a DOD audit showed government credit cards being used for $1m worth of gambling activity at casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Last August, the DOD’s inspector general slammed the DOD for its failure to adequately respond to the shenanigans and their potential ramifications for national security.
The GAO report includes some other interesting data, such as the number of slot machines in overseas US military installations. The machines are generally located in places like bowling alleys and are intended both as a recreational opportunity and a source of revenue.
As of July 31, 2016, the DOD operated 3,141 slot machines, of which 1,159 were located on bases in Japan. Germany was a distant second at 782 machines, followed by Korea (599), Italy (231) and the UK (157).
The machines generated total revenue of just under $539m in fiscal years 2011 through 2015. The numbers have been steadily decreasing over the past five years, starting at $123.3m in 2011 and falling to $89.2m in 2015. Perhaps the machines stopped taking government credit cards?