Gambling by Greek-Affiliated College Students: An Association Between Affiliation and Gambling

Gambling by Greek-Affiliated College Students: An Association Between Affiliation and GamblingThis investigation compared the prevalence rates of pathological and problem gambling between Greek-affiliated and non-Greek-affiliated college students. The 954 participants volunteered to take the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS; Lesieur & Blume, 1987), which measures gambling disorders. A statistically significant association was found between problem gambling and male Greek-affiliated students.

Pathological gambling is a disorder that affects many Americans. According to the American Psychiatric Association (1994, p. 615), pathological gambling is persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family, and vocational pursuits. A more inclusive category of gambler, one that includes all patterns of gambling behavior that may compromise, disrupt, or damage family, personal, or vocational pursuits is problem gambling (Lesieur & Rosenthal, 1991). Problem gambling categorizes the gambler as at risk for pathological gambling. In other words, the problem gambler does not demonstrate the five or more behaviors that would suggest pathological gambling behavior.

Previous research has suggested that the prevalence rate of "probable pathological gamblers" in the United States is between 1.4% and 3.4% (Culleton, 1985; Sommers, 1988; Volberg & Steadman, 1988, 1989). A recent meta-analytical study performed by Shaffer, Hall, and Vander Bilt (1999) that included 134 studies from the United States and Canada suggested the prevalence rates of lifetime pathological gambling among adults range between 1.5% and 1.6%.

Although pathological gambling can infiltrate all segments of society, research has suggested that college students are particularly susceptible to the risks of pathological gambling. According to Shaffer et al. (1999), being a college student is a significant risk factor for pathological gambling. In the same study, Shaffer et al. suggested that 5.05% of United States college students are pathological gamblers. In a study that measured gambling among college students attending three universities in Minnesota, Winters, Bengston, Dorr, and Stinchfield (1998) found that nearly 3.0% of their subjects were probable pathological gamblers. Additional research (Lesieur et al., 1991) has suggested the rates of probable pathological gambling among college students are 4 to 8 times higher than the rest of the adult population. Frank (1990) reported prevalence rates of probable pathological gambling for college students attending a college in New Jersey to be 6.0%. In another study, Ladouceur, Dubé, and Bujold (1994) found the prevalence rates of probable pathological gambling among college students in Quebec City to be 2.8%.

A subsegment of the college student population is the Greek-affiliated students. Greek affiliation refers to those students who belong to fraternities or sororities (named using Greek letters). The Greek system began during the 18th and 19th centuries when education was very rigid and structured. Fraternities were created to meet the social needs of the students. The goals of fraternities were to foster friendships, encourage sociability, and provide an outlet for free expression (Jones, 1976). Although fraternity and sorority involvement is mainly an American phenomenon, it has spread to several universities in Canada. In fact, according to the North American Intrafraternity Conference (n.d.), approximately 66 fraternities have 5500 chapters on 800 campuses in the United States and Canada. Similarly, 26 sororities belonging to the National Panhellenic Conference (n.d.) have chapters on 620 college campuses in North America.

Few researchers have analyzed the impact of the Greek affiliation on gambling participation. LaBrie, Shaffer, LaPlante, and Wechsler (2003) found that members of fraternities or sororities were more likely to gamble than non-Greek-affiliated college students. In an article in Sports Illustrated, Layden (1995) suggested gambling is "running rampant" through the Greek systems on college campuses. Although he did not elaborate on what "running rampant" meant, Layden hypothesized many fraternity members are gamblers because their families have higher incomes, so they in turn have more discretionary money. Previous researchers (Frank, 1990; Kallick-Kaufman, 1979; Ladouceur et al., 1994; Lesieur et al., 1991; Volberg, 1996) that examined this hypothesis has been inconclusive pertaining to the impact of family income on pathological and problem gambling.

In the current study, we hypothesized other factors might be involved that impact the prevalence rates of pathological and problem gambling among Greek-affiliated students. Alcohol abuse, peer pressure, and an enabling environment may predispose Greek-affiliated students to pathological and problem gambling. A positive correlation has been found between alcohol abuse and gambling problems (Ladouceur et al., 1994; Lesieur et al., 1991). Previous research (Cashin, Presley, & Meilman, 1998) also has suggested that Greek-affiliated students averaged more drinks per week, engaged in heavy drinking, and suffered more consequences than non-Greek-affiliated students. In an additional study (Wechsler, Dowdall, Maener, Gledhill-Hoyt, & Lee, 1998), 81% of fraternity and sorority members were found to be binge drinkers. Based upon these previous studies, we hypothesized that Greek-affiliated students may also have an increased likelihood of developing gambling problems.

Two other factors that may influence the prevalence rates of pathological and problem gambling among Greek-affiliated students are peer pressure and an enabling environment. These factors are an important part of social norms theory (Berkowitz, 2003), which is often used to explain group behavior. According to the authors of the social norm theory (Perkins & Berkowitz, 1986), one's behavior is influenced by incorrect perceptions of how other members of one's social groups think and act and that these incorrect perceptions lead to overcompensation to live up to that incorrect perception. Sher, Bartholow, and Nanda (2001) found that the misperceptions of heavy drinking in the Greek system are largely responsible for the prevalence of heavy drinking among fraternity and sorority members. Layden (1995) stated that Greek-affiliated students might have a high rate of problem gambling because of the Greek community. The fraternity house in particular provides a location to share tales of gambling and receive recognition for gambling successes. A case of using an enabling environment and peer pressure occurred during the 1990s at Arizona State University. A sportscaster and bookie recruited four fraternity brothers to solicit bets. Of their 245 betting accounts, 200 belonged to college students; 140 belonged to fraternity members and 60 belonged to other students at the university (Layden, 1995).

Winters et al. (1998) suggested that there is a need for prevalence studies to measure possible psychosocial variables that could lead to problem gambling. Greek affiliation in this case is a psychosocial variable that may impact gambling behavior of college students. The majority of the research on Greek-affiliated students has explored such maladaptive behaviors as alcohol abuse and hazing; however, no previous studies have explored problem gambling.

The primary purpose of this study was to compare, using the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS; Lesieur & Blume, 1987) the prevalence rates of probable pathological and problem gambling between Greek-affiliated and non-Greek-affiliated students. The researchers for this study posited that the rates for Greek-affiliated students would be higher than the rates for non-Greek-affiliated students.



The data for this investigation were obtained from students who attended nine large state universities located throughout the south-eastern United States. The participants were all enrolled in first aid or health and safety classes during the Spring 1998 semester. These particular classes were chosen because many universities offer them, a diverse body of students enroll in them, and they typically have a large enrollment.

Because the survey was administered during class time, the participation rate was very high (95%). Nine hundred fifty-four students representing nine universities volunteered to participate in the study. Based upon estimates in Petersons Guide to American Colleges and Universities (1997), 17.0% of men and 21.0% of women attending the schools were members of a fraternity or sorority (Table 1). For this study, Greek-affiliated students were defined as any participant who was at the time of the study a member of a fraternity or sorority.