After Minnesota legalized a state lottery in 1989, many questions were raised about gambling: How many Minnesotans gambled? How many Minnesotans had a gambling disorder? And how would these numbers be affected by the introduction of the state lottery? To get those answers, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services contracted with Randy Stinchfield, Ph.D., L.P., a clinical psychologist and leading gambling researcher at the University of Minnesota — and a founding board member with Northstar.
“I’ve been involved with Northstar since the beginning,” says Randy. “Lance Holthusen [Northstar’s first executive director] told me about his plan to start a new organization to address problem gambling and he invited me to be on the board. I wanted to be part of an organization that represented the interests of people suffering from gambling addiction.”
Early in his career, Randy’s focus was on alcohol and drug addiction, but he was attracted to gambling research because it was a new field. “It was exciting to do some of the early studies as this kind of research had never been done before,” says Randy. He is now a world-class gambling researcher and has had studies published in a variety of journals, including the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors and Journal of Gambling Studies.
Along with colleague Ken Winters, Ph.D., Randy conducted the first Minnesota youth gambling survey in 1990. They also collaborated with J. Clark Laundergan, Ph.D., (University of Minnesota Duluth) to do the first survey of gambling behavior in Minnesota adults. Subsequent studies were aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of gambling treatment.
Randy also started a program of research into the measurement and diagnosis of gambling disorders. His research has been cited as the rationale for lowering the diagnostic threshold from five diagnostic criteria in DSM-IV to four diagnostic criteria in DSM-5, which was shown to be more accurate. [The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the standard classification of mental disorders.]
Randy’s insights into problem gambling stem from a general perspective he takes on gambling. “People tend to want to dichotomize gambling, saying it’s either good or bad or suggesting that people should be for or against it,” says Randy. “I don’t view it as either good or bad, but rather as something that has both costs and benefits to society. Gambling is a form of entertainment that has the potential for addiction in a small percentage of the population, and these are the folks we need to help right away.”
In addition to his knowledge about problem gambling behavior, Randy has ideas on how information about compulsive gambling can be used to help those who gamble. He hopes that data can be made available to allow individuals to compare their gambling behavior with others. “I envision something that allows people to compare the extent of their gambling compared to their peers, which would give them a sense of whether their gambling is excessive or within the normal range,” says Randy.
Randy serves as the associate director for the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He was the recipient of the 2012 National Center for Responsible Gaming Scientific Achievement Award and the 2002 Research Award from the National Council on Problem Gambling.