What is Problem Gambling?

Problem gambling, also known as gambling disorder or compulsive gambling, is defined as the urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. It can interfere with a person’s life, relationships and responsibilities.

The primary signs include preoccupation with gambling and loss of control over one’s gambling (e.g., continued gambling despite adverse consequences of gambling). Other signs of problem gambling include hiding the evidence of gambling, feeling bad about one’s gambling, and skipping out on family and friends to gamble.

Sometimes the gambling problem is transient and goes away. Sometimes it plateaus and maintains for years, and sometimes it progresses to catastrophic levels. Regardless of the course, problem gamblers usually experience intense shame, financial strife, and family problems.

Virtually anyone – men or women, young or old, and those from every religion, race and socio-economic background – is at risk for developing a gambling problem. They can play the horses, slots, the lottery, pull-tabs, cards and bingo.

It’s estimated that approximately 220,000 Minnesotans fall within the spectrum of problem gambling.  It is estimated that one to two percent of Minnesotans meet the diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder. Another one to two percent experience problems related to their gambling behavior.

The most serious form of problem gambling is gambling disorder, which is characterized by “persistent and recurrent maladaptive behavior that disrupts personal, family or vocational pursuits” according to the American Psychiatric Association – DSM-V.

Gambling disorder can result in social, emotional and financial devastation, including loss of relationships, residence, emotional or physical health, and career or educational opportunities.

Some compulsive gamblers commit illegal acts to support their gambling or to pay off gambling-related debts. Problem gamblers also have the highest suicide rate among behavioral addictions. The good news is that help is available and it works!

About problem gambling
In Their Own Words – Melanie’s Story

In Their Own Words – Melanie’s Story

Melanie returned to GA after losing her job, experiencing depressions and attending treatment for her gambling. She learned that she can find hope and meaning from the most unlikely of sources and lives a gambling-free life today. READ MORE

Signs of Problem Gambling/Gambling Disorder

It’s not easy to determine if someone has a gambling problem. To receive a diagnosis of this disease, a problem gambling counselor or mental health professional will conduct a clinical evaluation to see if the individual meets four or more of the below criteria (according to American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)

  • Preoccupation – Frequent thoughts about gambling experiences (past, future, or fantasy).
  • Tolerance – Need for larger or more frequent wagers to experience the same “rush”.
  • Withdrawal – Restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
  • Escape – Gambling to escape from problems or feelings (i.e., depression, loneliness, etc.).
  • Chasing – Try to win back gambling losses with more gambling.
  • Lying – Lying about the frequency of gambling or amounts won or lost.
  • Loss of control – Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, reduce or stop gambling.
  • Bailout – Relying on others to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.
  • Illegal acts – Breaking the law to obtain gambling money or recover gambling losses.
  • Risked significant relationship – Gambling despite risking or losing a relationship, job, or other significant opportunity.

Additional signs of problem gambling may include:

  • increased frequency of gambling activity,
  • increased amount of money gambled,
  • gambling for longer periods of time than originally planned,
  • bragging about wins, but not talking about losses,
  • pressuring others for money as financial problems arise,
  • lying about how money is spent,
  • escaping to other excesses (alcohol, drugs, sleep, etc.),
  • denying there is a problem,
  • frequent absences from home and work,
  • excessive phone use,
  • withdrawal from family,
  • personality changes (increased irritability/hostility), and
  • diversion of family funds.

A major obstacle to people getting treatment for gambling disorder is the stigma that surrounds the compulsive behavior. Too many people attribute a gambling problem to personal shortcomings stemming from a lack of self-control, an absence of guilt, a propensity for risk taking, ignorance of gambling odds or unrealistic beliefs about winning. The frequent depiction of problem gambling or gambling addiction in popular culture as something experienced by bad or corrupt people also doesn’t help.

Although we understand addiction better today than ever before, gambling addiction is routinely stigmatized. This has the effect of people keeping the problem to themselves.

Public stigma may be particularly damaging for the health and well-being of stigmatized individuals. In addition to facing stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, they may experience the mental health effects of diminished self-worth, withdraw from social support and reject treatment and other interventions.

Reducing the stigma

The issue of stigma can get better over time, but only once gambling addiction is better understood. Once people feel more comfortable talking about it, they may seek help. That’s why destigmatizing gambling addiction is a key to treating the problem.

Although it will take years to reshape how we think about gambling addiction, there are small acts you can take on your own to help:

  • Be compassionate – Show understanding, kindness and support to those suffering from addiction. Withhold judgment, and instead simply listen to their experiences and needs.
  • Do your research – Education grows empathy. If you understand what those in the grip of addiction are going through, you can better understand how to help.
  • Avoid labels –Words like “addict” put blame on the individual. We want to avoid blaming the victim and instead focus on the real problem: the behavior.
  • Educate others – Even those with good intentions can cause harm through a lack of knowledge. Share what you learn to help broaden the understanding.

There is a wide range of gamblers — from those who gamble casually for entertainment to those who become addicted. Here are some common groupings of gamblers:

  • Casual social -These individuals gamble as part of a social outing with others and usually set time and money limits.
  • Relief and escape -These individuals gamble as a means of getting away from the stresses of their lives. This does not necessarily mean a person has a gambling problem unless they begin to gamble beyond their means or spend so much time gambling that they neglect other aspects of their life, including relationships and responsibilities.
  • Professional -Professional gamblers make a living from gambling, often including card games or trading stocks. While they spend a lot of time researching and playing, they are able to keep their play within their financial, emotional and social limits.
  • Problem gambling and gambling disorder – This type of gambler spends money they cannot afford to lose and have become preoccupied with gambling as the constant in their life. They exhibit many signs of problem gambling which negatively affect their finances, relationships, health and may even cost them their jobs or cause financial ruin. Between two to four percent of the general population show signs of problem gambling with about one to two percent exhibiting a gambling disorder.
Problem gambling & Suicide
Gambling and Suicide:

  • Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts are much more likely to occur with problem gamblers than with the general population.
  • Early onset problem gambling is associated with increased risk of suicide.
  • Actual gambling-related suicide attempts are more likely to be made by older people.
  • The risk of suicide in people with gambling problems is increased by comorbid substance use and comorbid mental disorders.
  • Gamblers have the highest rate of suicide among all addictions. There is a greater risk of suicide among veteran/active military who have gambling disorders.
  • For more information on suicide and gambling, please see the fact sheet here:

Suicide Fact Sheet 2018


winning PHASE
  • It moves beyond occasional gambling when one experiences a large win or frequent wins.
  • It’s exciting and the need to gamble more frequently builds and usually is accompanied by increasing the amount of the wagers.
  • One fantasizes about winning big and being a big shot.
losing PHASE

Remember, gambling is designed for the house to win. As frequency builds, so do the losses. That’s when people start to:

  • gamble alone,
  • chase losses,
  • think only about gambling,
  • spend less time with family and friends,
  • may start to have some impact on their professional life, and
  • start to exhibit some personality shifts – perhaps a bit more restless, irritable or withdrawn.
Desperation PHASE

The consequences of gambling disorder are significant and far-reaching. It can affect every aspect of an individual and their family’s lives.

  • Financially, those with gambling disorder may find themselves filing for bankruptcy and, in the worst cases, may resort to stealing from others.
  • Psychologically and spiritually, they are depleted, depressed and can be suicidal. As their addiction deepens, a problem gambler will withdraw from their normal activities and isolate themselves.
  • Families suffer from neglect, abuse, lies and loss of trust and in their vocational setting, work performances can decline or even worse, the loss of a job can dig the individual into a deeper financial hole as they spiral downward.
  • While the desperation phase is bad, it worsens as the gambler spirals down to the point of hopelessness where all rational thoughts are distorted, and they see no way out of the chaos that is now their life.
  • We see increases in divorce, turning to substance use, emotional breakdowns, suicidal ideation and the highest success rate of suicide amongst behavioral addictions.


Problem Gambling is the term most often used to describe gambling behaviors which cause harm to the gambler and/or to others close to them (i.e., spouses, children, etc.). These problems take many forms and sizes. For example, the gambler may have hurt themsleves financially with problems ranging in severity from falling behind on the bills to losing their home or child’s college education fund. Or the gambler may be suffering psychologically, resulting in issues ranging from depression to domestic violence. Problem gambling often leads to disruption or damage to family, interpersonal or community relationships and other negative effects to the person’s physical and mental health and/or their performance in school or at work.

There is hope problem gambling can be treated, no matter how big or small the problem may be!

Problem gambling is widely recognized as a chronic disorder marked by an uncontrollable urge to gamble. The individual cannot stop gambling despite ever-increasing negative consequences to themselves. Problem gambling includes, but is not limited to, the condition known as gambling disorder or “compulsive” gambling.

Not everyone who gambles will develop a gambling disorder. There is a spectrum with many different phases ranging from those who never gamble to those who develop an addiction, with problem gambling behavior in between.

Those with gambling disorder experience actual changes in the brain that occur as the cycle of addiction builds. This occurs because the brain has been “trained” to sustain a level of dopamine that comes from the “high” of gambling. Those who aren’t susceptible to addiction may not understand that the brain is involved in the urge to gamble and thus can’t understand why a person simply can’t just stop gambling.

Fortunately, most people can gamble without developing an addiction. Surveys suggest that gambling is popular among Minnesotans, with 78 percent reporting gambling at least once in a 12-month period in the NCPG NGAGE 2018 survey. Typical gambling activities include lottery tickets, pull-tabs, Bingo, raffle tickets, or visiting a casino or card room.

Historically, gambling was not defined as an addiction. However, by 2013, DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) determined that gambling shared many of the same attributes of alcohol and drug abuse and was defined as a disorder within the same “family” of addictive disorders.

Why can’t they just stop?

As gambling disorder progresses, the gambler loses more and more control over themselves and their gambling. They spend increasing amounts of time and money and are unable to stop themselves from gambling – aware only of the activity of gambling itself while ignoring their other responsibilities and the harm caused by their gambling. At some point, gamblers will say it no longer is about the money, but the action or the zone they get into when gambling. This is addiction.

Addiction is a physical reaction as well as emotional. The brain undergoes a change as an addiction takes control. As the habit of gambling is reinforced, the brain’s need for dopamine increases to a point where the individual feels compelled to continue to feed that dopamine rush. The addiction rules over any ability to act or think rationally. Those with a gambling disorder may acknowledge the negative impacts gambling is causing to the individual and to their families, but the addiction defies any reasoning.

Because so many of us gamble without exhibiting any issues, it is often difficult to have empathy for an individual who simple can’t walk away. The causes of addiction and its impact on our brains continue to be researched and there’s still much more to learn. We do know that two to four percent of the population is impacted by problem gambling particularly if there is family history of addiction. That’s why it’s important for families to have open conversations about family health histories. If depression, anxiety, or addiction is part of the family history, it’s best for all to know that these are illnesses, not moral failings. Acknowledging that someone may be impacted by addiction or mental health issues in the early stages, may prevent great harm and frustration for all involved. Just like any other instance where one of our bodily organs’ malfunctions, we seek treatment. Addiction and mental illness can be treated successfully.

The first step for a problem gambler to recover from their addiction is to admit that they have a problem, accept what they have lost and stop seeking the big win. Until the gambler takes this first step, they will be unable to stop themselves from continuing to gamble.

Problem gambling manifests differently depending on the specific population and context. Signs of problem gambling can be recognized in the workplace, school and home.

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Co-occurring or comorbidity is the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. In the case of someone with a gambling addiction, for example, this could mean they are also an alcoholic or suffer from depression.

Problem gambling often stems from a complex mix of issues that an individual may be experiencing, including inter-personal, intra-personal and health challenges.

In many cases, problem gambling does not occur in isolation. It often occurs in combination with a range of other co-presenting and co-morbid issues, including:

  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • alcohol and drug issues,
  • bad health,
  • domestic violence,
  • homelessness,
  • financial hardship,
  • legal problems,
  • unemployment, and
  • relationship breakdown.

While co-occurring disorders must technically exist at the same time, it’s possible that one of the conditions or disorders may have started before the other. For example, someone may first develop an alcohol problem and then later become a gambling addict. Or, both conditions may develop at the same time, but one may stop while the other continues.

During the period of time when symptoms of both disorders overlap, they are considered to be comorbid.

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Gambling problems can have profound impacts on the family unit. Families are often shocked to learn how much money has been lost. Some relationships do not survive a gambling problem, while other families struggle through difficulties and work to grow stronger together.

Family members should avoid making important decisions about family relationships while under stress. Given that people can and do recover from gambling addiction, counseling can help you explore your options and determine what is best for you and your family.

Living with a loved one’s gambling problem can be emotional and stressful. The following are normal reactions that can enable the gambler or help to hide the problem:

  • Desire to be perfect or “pick up the slack”.
  • Need to keep everyone happy and show them that they are not the cause of the problems.
  • Rebellion, to draw negative attention away from the gambler.
  • Apathy, withdrawal or isolation.
  • Trying to make the gambler feel guilt or shame.
  • Being defensive, making apologies to family and friends or employees.
  • Controlling, trying to set limits physically or emotionally on the gambler.
  • Blaming them.

As you try to sort out your reactions, begin by thinking about the effect another person’s gambling is having on your life. And remember, help is available for family members who are close to a problem gambler!

Many of the same problems are experienced by both the gambler and the family, including:

  • loss of money, savings, property or belongings,
  • feelings of hurt, shame, anger, fear, confusion or mistrust,
  • isolation or loss of intimacy,
  • loss of friendships due to unpaid debts or feelings of betrayal,
  • anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide,
  • stress-related physical problems (headaches, muscle pains, poor sleep, ulcers, bowel problems, etc.), and
  • burnout caused by one person trying to manage the entire problem alone.

The fallout from gambling problems can also lead to severe depression. Some signs that you may be experiencing depression include:

  • thoughts of suicide,
  • feelings of anger,
  • feelings of sadness or irritation,
  • feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or despair, loss of interest in usual activities,
  • changes to sleeping patterns,
  • increase or decrease in appetite, weight loss or weight gain,
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering things; your thoughts seem “slower,”
  • fixation on guilt or other feelings (i.e., you can’t stop thinking about them, over and over),
  • loss of interest in sex,
  • feeling tired, slow or lethargic, and
  • feeling restless or jumpy.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, speak to your family doctor or other health care professional. Be sure to tell them about the gambling problem.

Physical and Emotional Abuse

Domestic violence happens most often when families are in crisis and gambling problems can lead to the physical or emotional abuse of a partner, parent or child. If this is happening in your family, get help right away!


When a parent or guardian has a gambling problem, the children in their care can feel forgotten, depressed and angry. They may even feel responsible for the problem and alter their behaviors as a result.

For some children, the absence of their caregivers can thrust them into a role of responsibility, forcing them to take care of siblings or try to support their parent(s). This responsibility causes children stress.

Getting help for a problem and regaining control of your life is an essential part of positive parenting.

Common Responses

Some common responses children may develop as a consequence of problem gambling include:

  • loss of trust as a result of lies, secrets and broken promises,
  • feeling depressed or powerless to deal with the problem,
  • blaming themselves for the behavior,
  • anxiety or fear over losing a parent to separation or divorce,
  • loss of self-esteem,
  • social withdrawal and isolation because they feel different from others,
  • decline in academic performance,
  • deterioration of social relationships,
  • trouble sleeping,
  • increased frequency of stomach aches and/or headaches, and
  • feeling ashamed, angry, hurt or lonely.
Caught in the Middle?

Children may also feel caught in-between their parents and/or forced to take sides. As a result, they may try to draw attention to themselves by:

  • stealing or breaking the law,
  • getting into trouble at school,
  • drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and
  • gambling.

It is essential to help children understand that the family’s problems are not their fault. Family or individual counseling can help children return to a safe and balanced home life and a normal childhood.


Each problem gambler adversely affects the lives of other people who are close to him or her. Parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, children, employers and fellow employees must deal with the impact of problem gambling. There can be significant social impacts resulting from problem gambling which can generate “hard” economic costs for states, communities and individuals.

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that gambling addiction carries an annual cost of $7 billion in bankruptcy, co-occurring disorders and crime.

Other impacts on the community include:

  • domestic violence, neglect of children and family and senior abuse,
  • relationship break-ups/divorce,
  • job loss, unemployment,
  • debt, bankruptcy,
  • embezzlement, fraud, check forgery,
  • eviction forced home sales or foreclosure,
  • crime, arrest, incarceration and
  • poor physical and mental health.

Gambling addiction causes severe financial, emotional, social and sometimes physical problems for the gambler and their family. Coping with the negative consequences of gambling addiction can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has reported that about 20% of those diagnosed with disordered gambling attempt suicide – a higher percentage than any other addictive disorder. The families of problem gamblers are also at a higher risk of suicide for many of the same reasons. Some studies suggest that the worse the addiction, the more likely it is that the gambler will attempt suicide.

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Since gambling and gambling-related activities are frequently carried out during work hours, co-workers are often in the best position to spot employees with gambling problems.

Workplace Signs of a Gambling Problem
  • Work performance deteriorates; the person is preoccupied, has trouble concentrating, is absent or late for meetings and misses assignment deadlines.
  • Frequent unexplained absences or disappearances from work.
  • Eager to organize and participate in betting opportunities.
  • Pay is requested in lieu of vacation time; large blocks of vacation time are not taken.
  • Frequently borrows money, argues with co-workers about money that is owed to them.
  • Complains about mounting debts.
  • Excessive use of the telephone for personal calls.
  • Experiences mood swings often related to winning and losing streaks.
  • Credit card or loan bills are mailed to work rather than home.
  • Increasingly spends more time gambling during lunch hours and coffee breaks.
  • False claims are made against expense accounts.
  • Theft of company property.
Effects on the Workplace

Although not often recognized, problem gambling is a significant workforce issue. The effects of a gambling problem almost always spills over into the workplace. 

Colleagues may notice more emotional distress by either the gambler or a gambler’s loved one as they face the increasing pressures presented by this addiction.

Lost Time

Individuals with gambling problems can become completely preoccupied with gambling. The workday is often spent either in the act of gambling, planning the next opportunity, or plotting to get money for gambling.

Family members also become preoccupied, worrying about finances and holding the family together. There are feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, isolation and desperation. Family members (spouses, children, parents) feel like their life is consumed by the problems they are facing.

Lost Productivity

As a result of lost time, the company’s productivity is damaged. The gambler becomes unreliable, misses project deadlines and important meetings, and produces work that is of poor quality.

Physical and emotional health problems associated with excessive gambling can further diminish work performance and attendance. Depression, anxiety, high blood pressure or stress-related illness can surface in individuals with gambling-related problems and their family members.

Theft, fraud and embezzlement

Employees with severe problems may commit theft, fraud or embezzlement. Money is the gambler’s key to action. Once all legitimate avenues to obtain cash are exhausted, the gambler, in desperation, may resort to illegal acts to acquire cash. The workplace becomes a primary avenue for the gambler to illegally finance their gambling. Gamblers do not see this activity as stealing. They see it as “borrowing money” and plan to replace it when they win.

This information is reprinted material from the Saskatchewan Health Department

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Gambling problems can develop in anyone regardless of age, race, gender or socio-economic status. However, several groups are at particular risk.

Recovering from a gambling problem

Gambling problems can be devastating, but with the right support and/or treatment the gambler can recover and lead a healthy life again.

Those not long in recovery are particularly vulnerable. Remember this is a chronic disease and for most, continued peer and family support will be vital to maintaining recovery. In some instances, a gambler may have to make a variety of changes in order to sustain their recovery. For many, so much of their time and attention was tied to their addiction. It may require leaving behind friendships, relocating, rebuilding family relationships and making financial amends. It’s a lot to deal with and relapse can happen. That’s why it’s important for those in recovery to establish new, healthy patterns and choices. Newly recovered individuals may adopt a new addiction to replace the old. It’s important for the individual to understand the risks of relapse and to build support systems so when they’re feeling vulnerable, there’s help to keep them on track.

How to Avoid Relapsing?

Relapses are a problem gambler’s bigger fear. Unfortunately, they also happen quite often, which is not in itself something to be worried about. Mental health and achieving a healthy mindset towards your gambling problem are important, and a relapse is not an end of your road to recovery.

Just the opposite, you need to develop the right attitude towards this momentary setback. Instead of hiding it, fearing stigma the same way you probably first hid your gambling addiction, it’s best to open up to a loved one, your support group, or a health specialist.

#1 Talk It Out
Don’t let the cravings simmer and fester. Talk out your issue or urge to gamble with someone whom you trust and who has proven a moral bulwark for your recovery. The support of people whom you have come to trust and appreciate is essential to genuinely pushing past your addiction.

#2 Don’t Beat Yourself Up
If you do relapse, don’t spend too much time agonizing over this. It happens, and the fact you feel guilty means that you are advancing in your recovery. Talk out what you have achieved by relapsing and whether it was worth it.

Compare how you felt during recovery with how you felt when you satisfied your urge. More often than not, you will establish that your addiction is now physically and mentally unpleasant and your desire to gamble is much lesser than before you started treatment.

Relapses aren’t too bad when they happen, and if anything, they are a quick reality-check if your treatment is working.

#3 Find Engaging Hobbies
Addiction simply means that you have enough energy and determination, notwithstanding the chemical factor involved. You can channel your determination to pursue an activity into something that has a far more beneficial effect on you.

Of course, moderation will be essential, as the goal is to master addictive behavior, not encourage it in one form or another. You can take up any hobby that has to do with sports, music, art, books or anything you wish, really.

#4 Exercise Helps  
Even 15 minutes of exercise a day can help you achieve much better mental health. Exercise releases dopamine and boosts your cognitive and mental abilities, leading to a healthier lifestyle free of cravings to achieve momentary satisfaction.

#5 Remember, You Never Win
Remind yourself gambling is rigged and statistically stacked against you. You cannot realistically expect the win simply because the odds are against you, and this is always the case.

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As with other segments of the population, most older adults enjoy gambling as a fun recreational activity. However, for some it can become an addiction, bringing potentially devastating consequences. Gambling opportunities are plentiful for seniors; casinos, lottery products, bingo and online gambling are more available than ever.

Gambling Is Increasingly Popular Among Older Adults

Seniors are one of the fastest growing groups of gamblers. One study found that gambling was the most frequently identified social activity among adults over 65, with casinos and bingo surpassing movies, lunch, shopping and golf as preferred social activities.

Older adults have higher gambling participation rates than ever before due primarily to the aging population and the rapid expansion and increased access to legalized gambling. According to the American Gaming Association’s 2013 Survey of Casino Entertainment, casino visitation rates among the elderly are high, with 28 percent of people aged 65 and older reporting having gone to a casino in 2012. Research at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that 70 percent of those 65 or older said they had gambled in the previous year, with nearly 10 percent admitting to gambling away more than they could afford to lose.

The number of older adults participating in gambling is expected to rise considerably given that Americans over 65 represent the fastest growing age group. By 2030, this segment of the population is expected to total approximately 71 million, accounting for one in five Americans.

Concerns about Older Adults and Problem Gambling

Gambling among older adults is different from gambling in younger age groups for the following reasons:

  • When people are coping with big changes or loss, they are more vulnerable to developing a gambling problem; many older adults face life transitions and losses, such as death of loved ones, end of career or isolation from family and friends.
  • Older adults who have gambled away their retirement savings don’t have working years to make up their losses.
  • Many older adults may not understand addiction, making them less likely to identify a gambling problem.
  • Older adults appear less willing to seek assistance for a gambling problem than younger adults.
  • Many older adults hide their gambling because of the stigma associated with it, and health professionals rarely assess for problem gambling.
  • Many older adults have easy access to gambling and are drawn to gambling to fill their time or to be with other people.
  • Some older adults may have cognitive impairment that interferes with their ability to make sound decisions.
Casinos Market Heavily to Seniors

Casinos cater to seniors by enticing them with free bus transportation, free or discounted meals and entertainment, promotional coupons (such as player reward cards) and other prizes. Casinos also provide seniors with wheelchairs or motorized scooters to make them feel at home in their facilities.

Signs of Gambling Addiction in Seniors

Because seniors tend to live away from their younger family members, their addiction can remain hidden for long stretches of time. However, there are some detectable signs that an older adult may have a gambling addiction. Seniors may:

  • gamble to calm nerves, forget worries or reduce depression,
  • lose interest in other things, such as food,
  • talk about, think about or plan to gamble and not do other activities,
  • lie about gambling habits,
  • appear withdrawn or frequently unavailable,
  • be vague when describing their days and activities,
  • have sold off their valuable possessions for unexplained reasons,
  • talk a lot about exciting wins – but never discuss their losses,
  • gamble alone or gamble more often,
  • get into arguments about gambling,
  • go without basic needs in order to gamble,
  • need to gamble more and more money in order to get the desired effect,
  • experience health problems related to gambling like lethargy, headaches, bladder problems, anxiety and depression, and
  • have financial problems caused by gambling.
Getting Help

If you think you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, help is available. Untreated problem gambling can cause serious physical, emotional and financial problems, especially among older adults. In Minnesota, treatment for problem gambling is available at no cost for anyone without insurance or if their insurance doesn’t cover gambling disorder treatment, no matter your income level. Treatment options include in-person individual counseling and group counseling.

Call the confidential, 24-hour phone number below for information for help:
1-800-333-HOPE (4673)


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As gambling options have increased and become more accepted, women have been swept up into the gambling current.

Gambling to escape

Women can develop gambling problems for many reasons, but the most common is to “escape” their problems: they gamble as a way to avoid people, circumstances and/or emotions. When an escape gambler is feeling strong negative emotions (sadness, loneliness, anger, etc.) they may turn to gambling as a way to avoid confronting those emotions or the root causes of them. Because of this, escape gamblers often lose track of time passing, money lost and other people. Wins (or near-wins) become more exciting and may result in feelings of accomplishment or increased self-worth.

Some women may have gambled socially for many years without adverse effects, and then developed a problem following a significant lifestyle change(s). Events such as retirement, divorce or a personal loss (such as a death) may cause them to seek an escape. This is even more common among women who have suffered other addictions (drugs, alcohol) or compulsive or psychological disorders in the past.

Online gambling

Studies show more women are attracted to social casino games (which are free to play initially and then encourage the player to purchase virtual coins with real money). There is no financial gain in these games. Studies also show that women affected by gambling (either their own or a loved one’s) will usually hide the problem, which may lead them to become secretive and silenced by shame, guilt or fear.

A story on PBS News Hour highlighted one woman’s experience with social casinos and the predatory nature of the gaming operators to encourage continued play.

Getting Help

There are a number of options for women seeking help. One-on-one counseling, group sessions and attending a 12-step program like Gamblers Anonymous can provide different pathways to recovery. The first step is to acknowledge the need to seek help.

Call the confidential, 24-hour phone number below for information for help:
1-800-333-HOPE (4673)

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The prevalence of both gambling and problem gambling is increasing among military personnel compared to the general population. Moreover, problem gambling tends to co-occur with other disorders, such as substance abuse, intimate partner violence (IPV), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicide, the rates of which have also found to be high among those who have served in the military. While there are many opportunities for veterans and enlisted personnel to gamble in the United States and overseas, many members of the military do not have access to treatment for gambling problems and may face disciplinary action after seeking help. Therefore, greater attention needs to be paid to this problem by military policy makers and counselors, and community-based treatment providers. Increased efforts at problem gambling prevention as well as the expansion and improvement of existing treatment programs may help reduce the prevalence of problem gambling among service members.

Studies consistently find gambling addiction rates among active duty and veterans to be significantly higher than the general population.

  • A study in American Journal on Addictions suggests prevalence rates of gambling problems among vets receiving VA care are two to four times higher than the general population.
  • The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 56,000 active-duty service members have serious or moderate gambling disorders.
  • 17 percent of military veterans entering treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder met formal problem gambling criteria (Biddle et al., 2005).
  • Individuals with gambling addiction can create a critical readiness problem. They have higher rates of bankruptcy, domestic violence and suicide as well as extensive co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders.
  • An estimated 36,000 active-duty members meet criteria for a gambling problem.

Why call attention to this?

  • Gambling treatment services are the most ethical and economical way to help prevent problems, protect mental health and improve readiness.
  • At least 3,000 slot machines at military installations overseas are available to members of the Armed Forces and their families.
  • It is estimated that these slot machines generate over $100,000,000 in profits.
  • None of these profits or any Department of Defense funds are dedicated to programs to prevent or treat gambling addiction. (Fact Sheet prepared by The National Council on Problem Gambling, 2014)
  • Prevention and treatment programs reduce costs, improve morale, welfare and readiness, and, most importantly, save lives.
NCPG military gambling

Operation Responsible Gambling is an effort by the National Council on Problem Gambling to increase awareness of problem gambling among members of the military community, including veterans, active-duty personnel, family members and concerned others. The site highlights how veterans are at higher risk for gambling addiction and provides an overview of problem gambling.


The Gambling Addiction Prevention (GAP) Act. Senators Warren and Daines introduced the Gambling Addiction Prevention (GAP) Act of 2018, which required the DOD (Department of Defense) to include gambling disorder screening questions in health assessments for members of the Armed Forces and in other survey and research efforts. In 2018, language based on this provision of the GAP Act was signed into law as part of the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Senators Warren and Daines updated the Gambling Addiction Prevention (GAP) Act of 2019 to require the DOD to develop policies and programs to prevent and treat gambling problems, in coordination with the Department’s other behavioral health efforts. On military sites where gambling activities take place, such policies and programs would include provision of educational materials and promotion of responsible behavior. It also requires the DOD to update its regulations, instructions and guidance to explicitly include gambling disorder within 180 days of the passage of the Act.

As of February 2021, the Act has not been passed.

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Minnesota is comprised of dozens of immigrant and indigenous communities. Each has its own understanding of gambling and attitudes toward those who may not be able to “just walk away” when loses outnumber wins. While the psychological effects of gambling disorder are similar no matter what ethnic or racial group one belongs to, cultural and environmental norms play a huge role in the way gambling addictions are perceived and treated within those communities. Studies have consistently reported high rates of problem gambling among racial and ethnic minorities compared to Whites, though findings differ by geographic location and socioeconomic status.

More outreach efforts are needed to explain what problem gambling is and what help is available. In many communities, elders and spiritual leaders play important roles. Thus, there is a need for increased training among these community leaders to foster conversations about gambling, even before the concept of treatment is broached. Additionally, there needs to be a greater acceptance of culturally based treatments that can be supplemented with traditional western-style treatment to aid in the individual’s recovery.

Other factors that impact problem gambling assessment in these communities is access to quality healthcare and lack of awareness to available resources.

All Minnesotans are eligible to seek help through a state-approved gambling treatment provider, whether they have insurance coverage or not. A referral can be received by calling 1-800-333-HOPE (4673).

Several community outreach grants were distributed through Minnesota’s Department of Human Services. As those projects come to fruition, MNAPG will provide links to those resources.

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