Online gambling, like all other forms of entertainment and amusement, can lead to behavior well beyond habitual and into dangerous distraction. Even worse is that the nature of a gambling addiction, i.e. non-physiological, means that no physical barriers stand in the way or ruination: A multi-millionaire with a gambling addiction can throw away a lifetime of achievement and financial stability, yet still be physically capable of surviving uncured for decades after the self-destruction. While a physical, biochemical reaction is associated with gambling addiction (more information on this below), most official governmental and medical sources identify problem gambling as a behavioral/psychological issue.
Further, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) in the United States defines gambling addiction as behavior “caus[ing] disruption in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational.” This may read as a rather broad definition of the condition, but gambling addiction can be quite pernicious in disguising itself as social interaction or equivalent to harmless video gaming.
Truly precise estimates of the total population of those suffering from gambling addiction are of course impossible. For the U.S., a range of official and unofficial estimates suggests that anywhere from 3% to 5% (6.5 million to 11 million) could be considered addicted gamblers. In 2015, a Global Betting and Gaming Consultants study showed that residents of Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland, Italy and New Zealand all spent more per capita on gambling, so one would assume the gambling addiction rates are roughly equivalent to those of the U.S., if not higher.
A high correlation between alcoholism and gambling addiction has been noted: A recent National Institute of Health (NIH) study showed that alcoholics are a whopping *23 times* more likely to become addicted to gambling than the average American. In addition, the addicted gambler has an over 75% chance of developing a further depression-related condition.
Aside from these issues, the primary problems stemming from gambling addiction are mostly financial, and may take a lifetime to come back from.
With a serious enough condition – regardless of personal income, because hundreds of millions can be and have been thrown away in betting – the addicted gambler declares bankruptcy after racking up untenable debt. Some $17 billion is lost annually in the U.S. due to gambling addiction.
Once the bankrupt gambler has then exhausted his personal resources, i.e. borrowing from friends and family, he/she often turns to crime. And this is no baseless fearmongering, incidentally: A Gerogia State University study of 2010 showed that some 50% of addicted gamblers have committed crimes to support their habit, while Gamblers Anonymous estimates as many as 90% of their members have doen so before seeking treatment.
The NCPG sees the root causes of gambling addiction as founded in a combination of genes and environment; the group figures that factors including predisposition to addictive behavior, high stress levels and personal morality.
The human’s psychological makeup also contributes to the problem. Eminent psychologist B.F. Skinner’s theory of “operant conditioning” explains that randomly given rewards (e.g. a win at the craps table or at the slot machine) are far more effective at establishing routinized behavior (e.g. rolling the dice or spinning the reels one more time). Physiochemically speaking, the rush of endorphins and other natural opiates that ultimately make the player want to play more and more.
Naturally, as with substance addiction problems, accessibility to supply is a key factor in the development of a gambling addiction within an individual. NIH statistics show that the average individual is twice as likely to develop a serious gambling problem if he/she lives within 10 miles of a casino. Note, too, that Australia, the aforementioned leader in gambling expenditures per capita, is perhaps the world’s most permissible in the area: Some 50% of the population lives within convenient distance of gambling machines, OTB shops or sports bookies.
With biology at least part of a gambling addiction problem, however, one must note that the convenience of a casino does not *create* the conditions for gambling addiction, but rather triggers and exacerbates them.
You’ve probably seen derivations on a checklist of behaviors to watch out for should you suspect someone in your life has a gambling problem. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders advises that four or more of the following conditions met within a time span of 12 months indicates at least gave potential for gambling addiction.
• Wagering ever-greater amounts of money to maintain interest level;
• Repeated efforts to cut down or quit gambling altogether;
• Tendency toward irritability or restlessness during periods of non-gambling activity;
• Preoccupation with gambling, even when not gambling, and/or constant looking forward to the next opportunity to gamble;
• Gambling due to stress;
• A constant “chasing of money” or “throwing good money after bad” due to debt;
• Lies about the extent or frequency of gambling;
• Loss of personal relationships, employment or educational opportunity; and
• Borrowing money from friends, family and/or acquaintances to fund gambling activity or paying of debt.
In general, yes, but not reliably and not often. Real-life casinos rarely need to cut off an addicted gambler and, under the pretense of personal freedom, will often do little to discourage such an individual. Dozens, if not hundreds, of court cases regarding a given casino’s culpability in letting the problem gambler play on (and, far too often, plying him/her with as many alcoholic drinks as he/she drunkenly orders) have been heard in the U.S. and elsewhere.
In fact, in this respect, one might be better off with an online casino. These days, most reputable online casinos enforce spending limits and even “cooling off” periods for players making (and losing) too many deposits too quickly. A player can request that certain limits be set as well; unfortunately, since an online casino has few ways to efficiently verify identity, the only account with which a player may tamper is his/her own – and those with a gambling addiction are unlikely to be more stringent.
Asking a casino to bar oneself or a loved one is a stopgap measure at best. A few better and well more efficacious solution may be found at established support-and-counseling groups.
U.S. residents seeking help with a gambling problem for themselves or family members may call Gamblers Anonymous at (213) 386-8789 or visit the website at GamblersAnonymous.com. Additionally, the NCPG can direct U.S. residents to local resources to assist with gambling addiction and related issues; call the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network at (800) 522-4700.
In Canada, Gamblers Anonymous may be reached at (855) 222-5542. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) may be reached at (800) 463-2338 or visit the website at camh.ca.
GamCare is a national group devoted to advice, support and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. See their website at gamcare.org.uk or call (0808) 8020-133. In Australia, the best start would be with the Gamblers Anonymous Australian website at gaaustralia.org.au
Additionally, Relationships Australia provides counseling and support services in offices serving the Canberra, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania areas. Call (800) 858-858 or see relationships.org.au. In Victoria, the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation promises immediate assistance available 24/7; see ResponsibleGambling.vic.gov.au.
Absolutely – but it takes willpower. Though the addicted gambler isn’t popping pills or imbibing ethanol, the effects are very real, and kicking the habit is decidedly difficult – after all, the truth is a high proportion of addicted gamblers must hit rock bottom before seeking treatment. What’s more, defeating gambling addiction is made harder because any counselor’s first tip will be to quit cold turkey.
On the other hand, it’s certainly not difficult quitting gambling and mastering a gambling addiction. Take the story of Gladys Knight as an inspirational illustration: The superstar singer lost millions over the course of about a decade before bottoming out. In numerous interviews given in the early 2010s, Knight recalls playing table card games all night before realizing it was morning and that she was late to bring her child to school. She got up, called a helpline, left the casino and hasn’t gambled a dime since.
If you suspect you may be developing a gambling problem, we would advise immediately taking time off. If you have realized that you or a loved one has a gambling addiction, please get help immediately. Gambling addiction is a serious issue and the condition is curable.