US military personnel lose more than $100 million to the Defense Department (DoD) on slot machines stationed in overseas bases every year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).
That’s despite a ban on the machines at domestic bases since 1951 and a rate of problem gambling in the military that’s believed to be twice as much as among the civilian population.
Some studies suggest it could be even higher. Research published in 2020 by the University of Nevada found that 10 percent of military veterans suffered from problem gambling, compared with 2.5 percent in the general population.
Last year, a report published in The British Medical Journal suggested that UK Armed Forces veterans were seven times more likely than non-veterans to develop gambling problems.
“Everything we know about military personnel — that they tend to be young, male, risk-takers, likely to be suffering from higher rates of substance abuse, stress, depression, PTSD or traumatic brain injuries — is conclusively correlated with problem gambling,” Keith Whyte, executive director of the NCPG, told NPR this week.
Service members stationed overseas can feel isolated and lonely in remote locations where there is often little to do.
In 2005, Aaron Walsh, a decorated Army Apache pilot stationed at a base in South Korea, developed a slots problem and lost $20,000. He resigned from the Army to avoid a court martial on desertion charges stemming from his gambling addiction. Two years later, he took his own life.
In 2017, the DoD said there was “no evidence to suggest that gambling disorder is a high prevalence disorder in the DoD,” adding that it was “impractical to screen for every low prevalence disorder.”
A year later, the Trump administration enacted the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained a provision mandating the screening of military personnel for gambling disorders.
This followed a bipartisan effort by US lawmakers concerned that the number of problem gamblers in the military could make them susceptible to blackmail, potentially posing a threat to national security.
More than 3,000 Slots Worldwide
The DoD operates more than 3,000 slots, predominantly found in US Army bases in Japan and Germany. The Navy has them in Korea, Italy, Spain, Diego Garcia, Greece, and Singapore, according to the NCPG.
The DoD uses the money raised from these machines to fund its Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) program, which provides leisure activities and support services for the troops.
The Pentagon has said it could not afford to sustain this program without its sideline as a gambling operator, according to NPR.
The United States will spend around $777.7 billion on its military in 2022, the largest percentage share of the federal budget by far.
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