LAS VEGAS, NV—A gambling-addiction study by researchers at UNLV's Gaming Studies Research Center has "gotten way out of hand," sources close to the project reported Monday.

Addiction & Behavior

"Just one more sample group," said study director Robert Layton, nervously snapping the clasp of his lucky clipboard. "I have a hunch about this batch, a real hunch. I think it's gonna be a honey."

Layton, who has been conducting research in the lab and the field since March 2001, is studying relapse rates in habituated long-term gamblers. He is aided in his research by colleagues Dr. Steven "Shooter" Ojeda, Dr. "Big" Arnold Stangel, and non-faculty laboratory assistant Fancy Nancy, who was enlisted in the belief that she might, for reasons unknown, have a favorable effect on results.

The study, which is now nearly $10 million over budget, was supposed to have been completed by this past May. Layton continues to gather data, however, insisting that the big breakthrough, or "payoff," is just around the corner.

"The last dozen subjects looked like they'd plot a near-perfect obsessive-pattern distribution curve once their habits were charted," Layton said. "They fell into two groups of six on both sides of the line. Classic boxcars. And a researcher whose office is right across from mine just hit it big studying the effects of class and religion on betting habits, so I figure I gotta be next."

"The lack of results so far, sure, it's discouraging," Ojeda said. "But this baby's so fat with data, we're due for a big payout. That's the way it is in this business of high-stakes research. One big winning test group can make your whole study."

Layton expressed confidence that "major findings" will come soon.

Gamblers at the Las Vegas Luxor play blackjack, one of the many games the UNLV team wants just a little more time to study.

"Unlike some of the researchers out there, we've got a system that works," Layton said. "The University of Nevada–Reno guys, for example, they use a Von Rhiemann-style control group to enhance certain values in figuring their results. The difference is, we know how to twist its tail—you know, finesse it."

Others at UNLV do not share Layton's optimism.

"They've been talking about hitting it big ever since the study began," said Howard Leventhal, a UNLV professor of social psychology and illness. "But there have been no results. Which is strange, when you consider how much time and effort they've put in. I mean, last month, Dr. Ojeda took out a second mortgage on his house because of some 'sure thing' he had."

Added Leventhal: "I told them not to bet the farm on anything based on classical conditioning. But there's something about a researcher that can't resist the long shots. Goes back to Skinner."

Though they admit that the project has taken far longer than expected, members of Layton's team insist that their efforts will be well worth it in the end.

"Why spend your time studying habituation patterns of office-drone Joes and Janes when the payoff here is potentially so much bigger?" Ojeda said. "Besides, as long as you're spending lots of time at the tables collecting data, the coffee's free. Can't beat that with a stick."

Ojeda then excused himself to investigate a hot tip concerning the borderline obsessive-compulsive behavior of adult children of abusive alcoholics taking in the fifth race at Santa Anita.

"Baby, this one is the big one, I can feel it," said Stangel, holding a CD-ROM of raw data to his ear and shaking it. "This contains data from control groups seven and eleven, stuff we'd thrown out because it seemed so blue-sky, but we were thinking too hard and not going with our gut. Sometimes, the scientific method can lead you wrong, you know?"

"Seven-eleven! Seven-come-eleven!" said Stangel, pausing to let Fancy Nancy blow on the disc. "Daddy needs a new paradigmatic skew!"