An association formed by American Indian gaming tribes is funding the first major study of problem gambling in New Mexico in more than a decade.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, based in suburban Washington, D.C., will conduct the $292,000 study.

The nonprofit institute, whose clients include federal agencies, works to improve public health, safety and welfare.

The study is being financed by the Responsible Gaming Association of New Mexico, a group created and funded by several tribes to combat problem gambling. It will be the first look at the gambling behavior of New Mexicans and the prevalence of problem gambling in the state since a study was released in 2006.

Mental health experts consider such data critical in combating the mental health disorder.

Rebecca Beardsley, president of the gaming association, said the group wants to know whether it needs to fine-tune its efforts to prevent problem gambling and educate gamblers on the disorder.

“We will definitely take a look at that with the results of the study,” Beardsley said.

Acting on behalf of the gaming association, the National Center for Responsible Gaming, an industry-funded group, selected the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in December to conduct the study.

The study will examine gambling behavior among adolescents and adults across New Mexico, with specific focus on racial and ethnic groups, military service members, parents of minor children, sexual minorities, college students and people with unstable housing, according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

The study also will look at factors that make gamblers at risk of developing the mental health disorder — as well as factors associated with reduced risk, the center said.

Beardsley said the study should be completed in late 2019 or early 2020 and will be made publicly available.

Problem gambling — also sometimes referred to as compulsive gambling, pathological gambling or disordered gambling — has long been recognized as a mental health disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

The study of problem gambling in New Mexico published in 2006 estimated as many as 15,000 women and 24,000 men were problem gamblers. Tens of thousands of more New Mexicans were estimated to be at risk.

That study also was funded by the Responsible Gaming Association of New Mexico.

New Mexico created a state lottery and legalized slot machines at tribal casinos, horse-racing tracks, and veterans and fraternal clubs in the 1990s.

Over the past two decades, there have been several well-publicized cases of crimes and suicides by problem gamblers. Dianna Duran resigned as secretary of state in 2015 and pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her use of campaign donations to feed a gambling habit.

Under their agreements with the state allowing them to conduct casino gambling, the state’s 14 gaming tribes must spend a portion of their revenues on prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

Last year, the tribes’ spending on problem gambling programs totaled $1.8 million, with nearly $250,000 going to the Responsible Gaming Association of New Mexico, according to the state Gaming Control Board.

By comparison, in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the state earmarked less than $71,000 to address the issue while raking in more than $156 million in revenues from the lottery, tribes, racetracks, and veterans and fraternal clubs.

State government’s Compulsive Gambling Council, which was created by law in 2006 and is under the authority of the governor, also hasn’t met in at least seven years despite a legal requirement that it meet regularly.

The Responsible Gaming Association operates a 24-hour hotline for problem gamblers, produces educational materials on the issue, trains casino workers on how to identify and deal with problem gamblers, and funds free counseling and other treatment services.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which will conduct the new study for the association, says its mission is to promote, undertake and evaluate activities, studies and programs that improve public health, welfare and safety.

Its listed clients include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Contact Thom Cole at 505-986-3022 or tcole@sfnewmexican.com.