UNLV Doctoral Student Receives Prestigious Award from the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling

May. 1, 2015

UNLV doctoral student Sarah St. John recently received the prestigious Shannon Bybee Award from Nevada Council on Problem Gambling for her research on the effectiveness of treatment received by problem gamblers.

UNLV International Gaming Institute Executive Director Bo Bernhard, who is also St. Johns’ doctoral advisor in the department of sociology, presented the award at the council’s annual conference luncheon.  The award is named after Bybee, a gaming industry pioneer who dedicated the last years of his life to launching the UNLV International Gaming Institute.

St. John is the project director of the state’s largest U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-funded research initiative, The Nevada Problem Gambling Project. In this role, she has conducted thousands of post-treatment interviews with problem gamblers who receive services from state-funded providers, seeking to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and to understand how their overall recovery has progressed.

The goal of the Nevada Problem Gambling Project is to provide data-driven answers about who is being served in state-funded problem gambling treatment, which communities are potentially underserved at this time, and how effective treatment is at providing the help problem gamblers need.

“I am truly honored to receive this award from the Nevada Council,” said St. John. “It was a wonderful surprise, and it means so much to have received the award from my mentor and dissertation chair, Bo Bernhard. I am continually inspired by Dr. Bernhard's dedication and passion for this field, and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from him, the folks at the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, and all the people who've shared with me stories of their struggles with gambling.”

St. John currently oversees the project and produces all the monthly reports to DHHS regarding the clinic’s contacts with clients, quarterly performance reports, and annual reports. She also takes part in designing and refining the database used to collect and report on all the information for both the intake and follow-up research.

She explains that the project has two components:  follow-up interviews with people who've gone through problem gambling treatment at a state-funded problem gambling treatment  providers and also the intake research. “For the follow-up research, we contact folks at 30 days, 90 days, and one year after they start treatment and ask them about their experiences in treatment, and the impact treatment has had on their gambling behaviors and daily life,” St. John said.

For her dissertation, she will survey UNLV students about their gambling habits and their perception of other UNLV students' gambling habits. She will also provide them with personalized normative feedback with the goal of helping students identify healthy gambling behaviors.

Bernhard won the Bybee award himself back in 2002 when he was a Ph.D. student at UNLV. He was the inaugural recipient of the award and received the award from Bybee himself.

“Presenting this award to Sarah was really an ‘all in the family’ experience,” he said. “It was really a tribute to the enduring spirit of Shannon Bybee, who had a vast and diverse career that spanned gaming operations, regulation, and education. Here at UNLV, he served as a professor, emphasizing problem gambling education for the next generation of gaming employees.  After he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling named its inaugural (and still sole) award after him, and asked for his input on who might receive the first award.”

Thirteen years later, Bernhard in turn endorsed his own top student for the award, noting her competence, professionalism, and dedication to the research endeavor.

To learn more about research at the UNLV International Gaming Institute, visit their website