Military leaders have been reluctant to openly say there’s a serious gambling problem in the military.
But it is enough of a concern that the airwaves, military newspapers and Web sites are regularly pressed into service to address compulsive gambling in the ranks.
At the moment, Armed Forces Radio and Television Service has a roster of 22 commercials about problem gambling similar to those warning of the consequences of drunken driving and spousal abuse.
“The spots were produced because senior leaders determined that gambling was an issue that needed to be addressed,” Paul M. Waldrop, chief of the office responsible for the commercials, wrote in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes.
At the same time, base newspapers, Web sites and message boards regularly advertise Gamblers Anonymous meetings and advise troops that gambling could ruin their careers.
But because the military makes millions of dollars a year off of its own slot machines, some see these efforts as either insincere or just not up to the task of mitigating the problem of gambling in the services.
“There have been four Department of Defense reports since 1992 which have talked about gambling-addicted personnel,” said John W. Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Those reports concluded that some 2.2 percent of troops had experienced at least three gambling-related problems, which would put them in the category of pathological gamblers. Among other Americans, somewhere around 0.77 percent to 1.6 percent experienced similar problems, according to Kindt.
The reason the military has a bigger gambling problem, Kindt believes, is that the military pushes gambling on troops, and the slot machines it provides at many overseas locations are the “crack cocaine” of the gambling industry.
“That’s not my terminology,” he said, but the term used by addiction experts and the gambling community.
Whether the AFN spots can help stem the problem is open to debate.
Nicole Schrawyer, 33, a Navy spouse at Misawa Air Base, Japan, said the ads made her aware that gambling could be a problem, even on a military base.
“Especially with the E-2s, E-3s and E-4s, where money is so tight, the idea where maybe you can make more money is really tempting,” she said.
The commercials perhaps make “senior enlisted and senior officers aware of that type of temptation” for younger servicemembers, she said.
One sailor said the commercials aren’t likely to discourage those already addicted to gambling.
“But maybe for the people who haven’t started gambling, it could help,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Curtis Speights, who is stationed at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.
Stars and Stripes reporters Jennifer Svan at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Travis Tritten at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, contributed to this story.