Research into gambling addiction estimates that between 2% and 5% of people who gamble become addicted to the experience. Gambling addicts – like people who suffer other types of addiction – make poor life choices and put their livelihoods and families’ well-being at stake.
No one chooses to become an addict. It happens for a variety of reasons.
But research also shows that people are aware of and manage the risks of addiction are less likely to become addicted in the first place.
What is gambling addiction?
Gambling addiction is a mental health problem. It is also known as compulsive gambling, problem gambling, uncontrolled gambling, and gambling disorder.
A gambling addict feels an overwhelming need to stake money or something of value on a bet at almost any time. The compulsion to gamble gradually leads the addict to risk money or valuable property that someone who isn’t addicted would never stake in a game of chance.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that gambling addiction affects 2 areas of the brain just like drug and alcohol addiction do. These areas are involved in decision-making and in reward and impulse control.
An addict’s decision-making changes over time to do whatever is necessary to satisfy the addiction. Everything else becomes less important.
In short, addicts tend to make bad decisions. And when you gamble you need to make the best possible decisions. Gambling addicts lose more often and more money than other players.
While there are treatments for addiction, it must be properly diagnosed and therapy must be managed by a trained mental health professional.
What is responsible gambling?
Gambling companies support the Responsible Gambling social initiative. They do this by recognizing the serious harm that addiction does to people and their families, and the economic cost of catering to addicted players who cannot cover their losses.
Casinos may be required by local laws to advertise gambling addiction hotlines, but most go a step further and contribute to making players aware of addiction risks and how to manage them. The Responsible Gambling initiative allows governments and gaming control boards to work with gambling companies to ensure the industry operates fairly and with integrity.
Responsible Gambling policies may be mandated at the government level but industry members have been highly supportive of the initiative around the world.
How does Pennsylvania define responsible gambling?
The State of Pennsylvania implemented several requirements to help players and gaming companies work together to maintain a happy, safe gaming environment.
The state maintains a Compulsive and Problem Gambling Treatment Fund. The fund pays for programs to educate and assist the public in identifying and treating gambling addiction. Land-based and online gambling operators must contribute to the fund and promote availability of gambling addiction services.
According to the state’s Responsible Gambling page, gambling is a form of entertainment. “Responsible gambling is about staying within affordable individual spending limits and ensuring gambling doesn’t cause any personal harm.”
In other words, responsible gambling teaches players to set boundaries that – when crossed too often – may signal the players have a gambling disorder.
How does Pennsylvania’s responsible gambling program help players?
The state’s ordinance stipulates that gambling operators must make their customers aware of problem gambling and provide clear instructions on how to contact the state’s gambling hotline (1-800-Gambler).
Players can request to be admitted into the state’s various self-exclusion programs. Self-exclusion is a voluntary act and restricts a person from playing games of chance or collecting winnings in the state’s licensed gaming venues, both land-based and online.
Casino operators may not extend complimentary gifts or services to self-excluded players.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board sponsors the state’s support of Problem Gambling Awareness Month (observed in March) and funds promotions throughout the year for responsible gambling programs.
Individuals seeking help with gambling addiction may be provided information on available services and social groups (such as Gamblers Anonymous) offering to help problem gamblers.
Beyond the direct services the program offers, Pennsylvania’s Responsible Gambling program is credited with ensuring that players enjoy a safe, fair gaming environment.
Both land-based and online casino operators must:
- Protect vulnerable players from engaging in self-harming gaming
- Prevent underage gaming
- Protect customer privacy
- Inform customers of the risks of gambling and where to seek help
- Maintain a fair, ethical gaming environment
- Promptly pay customers who wish to cash out
How to recognize that you have a gambling problem
No one goes to sleep mentally healthy and wakes up with an addiction. Addictions can be triggered almost instantly through very intense experiences but in most people they develop over time.
If you’re not using drugs or alcohol then the signs of addiction will be less obvious to others around you, although they may realize something is wrong.
Some addictive behaviors are very subtle. It could be the difference between spending time with family and friends and watching a sporting event.
Addiction hides behind denial. The first sign you have a problem might be when someone asks if you have a problem. Addicts often dismiss the notion, insisting they can quit their addictive behavior at any time.
Saying you can quit at any time doesn’t mean you are addicted. But it’s a warning sign.
A better indication of addiction is that when you feel stressed you turn to the addictive behavior for relief. Smokers need nicotine. Drug and alcohol addicts need a fix or a drink.
Gambling addicts more often prefer to play a game – even if they’re not wagering any money – than think about paying their bills, how they are going to repair the car, or worry about where their children are.
There’s no clear line to draw in your life. By the time you realize you’re addicted it’s been influencing or controlling your behavior for a long time. You’ve rationalized many poor choices.
Addicts don’t take responsibility for their behavior. If you have an enabler that person accepts responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Neither of you may realize you have this kind of relationship because it simply exists.
Addictive behavior includes feelings of irrational anger and frustration, paranoia, insensitivity to others’ needs and desires, a lack of motivation to accomplish anything other than satisfying the ever-present need, and sometimes abusive behavior toward others.
You’re not the bad guy unless you want to be.
Addicts don’t realize when they are hurting others because they are often in pain. The addiction may have formed as an attempt to escape some painful past episode. The need to recapture that euphoric feeling of playing, winning, or seeming to be in control of your own fate leads you to bury all discomfort in the moment.
If you don’t understand why your friends and family are frustrated with you – and you’re gambling many times throughout the week – and you struggle to pay your bills, don’t eat regular meals, avoid people, or otherwise feel isolated from the world you may have a gambling addiction.
Gambling behaviors that signal a problem
Gamblers tend to be superstitious people. Habitually stroking the slot machine or tapping the gaming table “for luck” doesn’t mean you have a gambling problem.
Nor does falling for false beliefs like the Gambler’s Fallacy or Sunk Cost Fallacy mean you have a gambling problem.
The Gambler’s Fallacy is the wrongful belief that you’re more likely to win because you lost in the last game. The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the desire to recover a loss that is no longer relevant.
Problem gamblers believe they can recover their losses. They rationalize continued play by promising themselves they’ll do good things with the money they win. And the more they play the more they lose.
Problem gamblers are more likely to borrow money to gamble with, more likely to increase their bets, more likely to search for better betting systems, and may steal or commit fraud to continue gambling.
What services does Pennsylvania provide for gamblers?
In addition to the gambling hotline, the state recognizes the Council of Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Pennsylvania players seeking help and organizations providing help to players.
The council promotes social awareness through public speaking, workshops and seminars, and distributing information.
Their helpline is 1-800-848-1880.
Players who feel they have been treated unfairly by casinos may file complaints with the state gaming board. If a player requests self-exclusion and a casino ignores the self-exclusion, the player may report this to the state gaming board.
State Websites link to or promote addiction treatment services. Some state programs may provide financial assistance in covering addiction treatment. Patients should discuss available options with mental healthcare providers.
Responsible gambling is not a necessary evil. It’s a good sign that the public, government, and industry take mental health issues seriously. Players should not feel ashamed or embarrassed if they believe they have a gambling problem.
Seeking help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. If your entertainment budget is all about gambling and it’s more important than your obligations, it’s time to think about taking a break.
Pennsylvania is there to help its citizens do just that.