Understanding and Overcoming Gambling Addiction
The intoxicating allure of Atlantic City and the twinkling lights of the Las Vegas strip are home to some of the world’s most impressive casinos. The gaming industry takes in a staggering $500-billion every year. Casinos, online gambling platforms, and sports bookies provide a rush of excitement and plenty of action to the nations gambling community.
Over 85-percent of Americans enjoy the rush of placing a bet at some stage in their life. Whether it’s going all-in on black, choosing lottery numbers, or betting on the success of their local football team, gambling is a pastime that attracts millions of people every year.
While media reports the big winners and glorifies their lifestyle, there’s a shady side to the pastime as well. 23-million Americans go into debt each year due to gambling addiction, with the average loss calculated at $55,000.
Gambling – As American as Apple Pie
Placing bets on sports teams, and hitting the slots or tables for a rush of adrenaline is a popular means of escapism and entertainment. You don’t have to go far to find an outlet willing to take your action.
While the majority of Americans are casual gamblers and don’t think twice about placing a friendly bet, some take it too far and end up incurring losses that they can’t afford. Gaming and gambling addiction is real, and it’s a mental disorder akin to drug addiction.
Gambling addicts receive a rush of dopamine every time they win. This biological feedback system preys on the same chemical receptors in the body that heroin users experience when they take a hit.
Unfortunately, the public doesn’t view gaming and gambling in the same light as drug abuse. The majority of the population view gambling as a harmless way of making a buck – you win, or you lose, and then you move on without a second thought.
We’ve all heard about the person that struck the lottery and made millions, or the professional poker player that took down the field to win big at a poker tournament in Las Vegas. These events inspire people in the American dream; it’s possible to go from broke to financially free, with a simple roll of the dice.
The House Always Wins
A small demographic of highly talented individuals make their living from professional gambling. These pros’ have spent their lives studying statistics, variables of chance, and analyzing human behavior. To them, gambling’s a job, and they’re good at it.
A professional gambler analyzes a game before they decide to place their bet. They spend hours in research and technical analysis before even considering putting money on the table. For example; the average Joe that places a wager on their favorite sports team to win on the weekend does so out of passion and belief in the performance of the players.
This strategy is a foolish way to place a bet. It has its basis for success in faith and hope. Therefore, it’s up to lady luck to decide if they win or lose. A professional gambler spends hours researching the players on both sides. Who is injured? What statistics are they reaching? How is their past performance? These are just a few of the criteria they use to place their bet, and it’s never a case of blind faith or hope.
Unfortunately, 99.9-percent of gamblers don’t realize that the odds are stacked against them when they place their bet, and it’s the reason why the U.S leads the world in gambling losses. Research from the financial publication, The Economist, shows that gamblers in the United States lost over $117-billion in legal gambling, and a further $150-billion on illegal sports betting in 2016 alone.
Gambling is legal in every state, apart from Hawaii and Utah, and experts suggest that the legal status of gaming activities has no impact on peoples gambling behavior. Illegal gambling venues, backyard games, and private clubs exist in every state, and that’s not to mention online sites that offer action to gamblers at any time of the day. If people want to gamble, they’ll find a venue that accommodates them.
The Impact of Gambling on Your Family and Friends
Gambling may seem like a relatively innocent activity to most Americans. You might not think twice about placing a friendly bet on your local sports team or dropping a few quarters into a slot machine. However, for some, it becomes an overwhelming psychological issue that creates an addiction to the rush of winning.
Problem gambling can ruin lives. It destroys families and leaves gaming addicts broke and in debt. If a gaming addiction costs a couple of hundred dollars a week, it can take a large slice out of the family budget, causing financial distress and forcing the family into poverty.
Individuals that experience problem gambling behavior is more likely to suffer from psychological and physiological stress. These symptoms include mental health issues such as helplessness, despondency, high-anxiety, and depression.
Physical issues like hypertension, migraines, and gastrointestinal disorders also present themselves due to the high levels of stress experienced by problem gambling and the financial fallout that results from their behavior.
Research shows that over 5.5-million people in the U.S experience a problem gambling disorder that requires treatment and therapy. Increased rates of suicide are also a concern as problem gamblers experience financial distress that overwhelms their life. One in five problem gamblers attempts suicide with between 3 and 4-million Americans experiencing pathological gambling behavior.
Unfortunately, the fallout from problem gambling doesn’t affect the gambler alone. Family and friends are often pulled into their addiction and suffer as a result of dealing with the financial costs of settling their gambling debt.
It’s possible that you know a family member or friend that’s a problem gambler. If you notice any of the following behavior present itself, then they may have an addiction to gaming.
- Spending time away from the family or work to gamble.
- Disconcert and withdrawal from family and social circles.
- The request for loans to cover gambling losses.
- Hiding gambling activity and losses from family members and friends.
Friends and family members are the first people to identify these issues. Unfortunately, confronting the gambler about their behavior may result in ostracized behavior that drives them away from the support they need to quit their addiction.
Gamblers can only rehabilitate themselves when they admit they have a problem and want to change. Family and friends can’t force the change, all that can do is be there for the addict when they reach their breaking point and reach out for help.
How Do Gamblers Cover Their Losses?
Problem gamblers create a downward spiral of bad debt that eventually ruins their financial health and affects their family and friends.
It’s typical for gambling addicts to apply for as many credit card facilities as their credit score allows, and then max out the cards. They take out loans from financial institutions, friends, and even their place of employment to cover their gaming activities.
Most problem gamblers continue down this destructive path with the hope of scoring a big win that they can use to cover their debts. Unfortunately, the dream of a large pile of chips, almost always results in a mountain of debt that’s unsustainable to manage.
Gambling Addiction and the Debt Trap
According to data from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), over 2-million individuals in the United States suffer from pathological gambling behavior. A further 4 to 6-million people meet the criteria for problem gambling, and as many as 15-million are at risk of developing a gambling addiction that they can’t control.
As with individuals suffering from substance abuse problems, gambling addicts may exhibit self-destructive behavior that affects their relationships, financial health, and employment. Despite the negative consequences of their actions, problem gamblers continue their practice in the hope that they can escape the debt trap.
Their addiction becomes a mental health disorder that creates a feedback loop in constant need of satisfaction. Catastrophic, self-destructive behavior exhibited by out-of-control gambling addicts may include;
- The sale of possessions to cover gambling debt and finance gambling activity.
- Criminal activity to fund their gambling habit.
- Unsuccessful attempts to limit or stop gaming activities.
- Lying about losses or time spent gambling.
- Moving money between accounts to hide gambling losses from family members.
- Borrowing or stealing money from employers.
- Missing bills to finance gambling activity.
- Taking money from children or their spouse to fund their gambling habit.
Problems gamblers live their lives in a constant state of chaos that’s easy to spot. All you need to do to identify the problem is look at their behavior.
They will consistently exhibit financial distress that rules their thinking and actions. Overdue bills, maxed-out credit facilities, and overdrawn checking accounts are all common signs of economic duress experienced by problem gamblers.
How Debt Goes Bad – The Costs of Gambling Away Your Financial Freedom
Men that develop gambling addictions take more risk than women problem gamblers. Therefore, the average debt incurred by men suffering from the condition is between $55,000 and $90,000, while women average a $15,000 problem gambling debt.
Eventually, if they do not address their addiction, they will spiral out of control into financial ruin. More than 20% of problem gamblers end up filing for bankruptcy as they cannot service the debt requirement.
The resulting financial distress means that problem gamblers risk exposure to a suicide rate that’s 20-times greater than a financially healthy individual. Rates of divorce are also twice that of non-gamblers.
Easy credit is the most common cause of gambling addicts spending more than they can afford. Casinos are quick to create loans to gambling addicts to further their gaming activity. Markers and credit facilities, are a side-line business model, generating billions of dollars in profits for casinos every year.
Casinos charge hefty interest rates of between 2 and 5-percent for loans and often require the gambler to sign surety for the loan, resulting in the seizure of their assets if they fail to repay.
Online Gambling – A Poison for College Students
Many students view online gambling as a means of escaping student debt. Gaming industry icons, such as online gambling legend – Dan Bilzerian, provide students with an unrealistic expectation of what to expect from gambling on their laptop or mobile device.
Analysis of online gambling statistics provides terrifying results. Almost 97-percent of all gaming activity occurs online, with 51% of all online gamblers using a mobile device to place their bets. Over 75-percent of college students admit to gambling online in the last year, with more than 6-percent of students prone to developing the signs of gambling addiction.
According to the National Center for Responsible Gaming, many college students fall into the trap of using their student loans to fund their gambling habits. The combination of easy access to money and plenty of free time means that the rate of problem gambling among students exceeds that of the adult population.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 places restrictions on online gambling sites such as Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker. However, these companies move their activity offshore, away from the effect of the legislation.
Sites like Bovada and 5dimes, as well as fantasy sports leagues like FanDuel and DraftKings, thrive in their offshore havens – while they empty the pockets of students across the United States.
Predatory algorithms employed by these sites mean that the house always wins. All it takes for students to throw away their education and financial future; is access to a credit card and a Wi-Fi connection.
8 Methods to Settling Gambling Debt
It’s critical to understand that gambling addicts must be successfully treated and rehabilitated before any attempt is made to settle outstanding debt. If the gambler does not receive the treatment and help they need beforehand, they will use their clean credit line to further their gambling habit.
After successful rehabilitation, it’s time to deal with the mountain of debt. Here are 8-options available to help the gambler settle outstanding debts and get their finances back on track.
- List Your Outstanding Creditors – Casinos, loan-sharks, banks, bookies, and anyone that you owe money. Work out the exact amount you owe, including the interest.
- Define Your Budget – Calculate your monthly budget. Divert any extra funds to settling your debt, after you’ve covered your expenses.
- Sell What You Can – Gambling addicts typically sell any available assets during their addiction phase. However, if you have anything left over after your rehabilitation, consider selling it to cover your debt.
- Consider Payday Loans – Payday loans are an attractive option to settle the immediate debt that’s costing you extra interest every month. Apply for a loan with a financial services provider to cover the high-interest debt.
- Consolidate Your Outstanding Debt – Debt consolidation allows you to combine all your outstanding debt into a single loan payment. Typically, a financial institution will loan you money to pay off all your outstanding creditor, leaving you with a low-interest payment that you can afford.
- Join Debt Relief Programs and Debt Counseling – Debt relief and debt counseling programs offer you access to financial professionals that review the health of your finances. They structure an affordable debt-repayment plan that allows you to achieve debt relief.
- Create More Income – If your debt is unmanageable, think about taking on a second job, or create a second income stream by opening a business.
- File for Bankruptcy – This is the last resort. If you have outstanding debt that you can’t repay, filing for chapter 7, or chapter 13 bankruptcy may be your only option. Don’t see this as an easy option to sidestep your responsibility. If you file for bankruptcy, it will affect your credit record for up to 10-years afterward. This situation will make it impossible for you to lease a car, buy a house, or obtain a credit facility.
Wrapping Up – Resources for Gambling Addicts
If you are a problem gambler, there’s organizations and resources that you can turn to for help. Treatment for gambling addiction is available from the following resources;
Gamblers Anonymous – GA offers a 12-step program that helps gamblers deal with their addiction and keeps them on the path to establishing financial health. All you need to join the community is a genuine desire to stop gambling. GA offer support groups for gamblers, as well as their families.
NCPG – The National Council on Problem Gambling is an organization independent of any gaming authority. They offer courses and information on gambling addiction, problem gambling, treatment, and a list of verified treatment centers across the United States. Gamblers can also call their hotline for help.