Background As a behavioral addiction with clinical and phenomenological similarities to substance addiction, recreational and pathological gambling represent models for studying the neurobiology of addiction, without the confounding deleterious brain effects which may occur from chronic substance abuse.Method A community sample of individuals aged 18-65 years who gamble was solicited through newspaper advertising. Subjects were grouped a priori into three groups (no-risk, at-risk, and pathological gamblers) based on a diagnostic interview. All subjects underwent a psychiatric clinical interview and neurocognitive tests assessing motor impulsivity and cognitive flexibility. Subjects with a current axis I disorder, history of brain injury/trauma, or implementation or dose changes of psychoactive medication within 6 weeks of study enrollment were excluded.Results A total of 135 no-risk, 69 at-risk and 46 pathological gambling subjects were assessed. Pathological gamblers were significantly older, and exhibited significant deficiencies in motor impulse control (stop-signal reaction times), response speed (median 'go' trial response latency) and cognitive flexibility [total intra-dimensional/extra-dimensional (IDED) errors] versus controls. The finding of impaired impulse control and cognitive flexibility was robust in an age-matched subgroup analysis of pathological gamblers. The no-risk and at-risk gambling groups did not significantly differ from each other on task performance.Conclusions Impaired response inhibition and cognitive flexibility exist in people with pathological gambling compared with no-risk and at-risk gamblers. The early identification of such illness in adolescence or young adulthood may aid in the prevention of addiction onset of such disabling disorders.