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Counseling Center
University of Mississippi


Problem & Compulsive Gambling

One of the biggest problems related to gambling and other compulsive and addictive behaviors is that the person with the problem tends to be the last one to see it. You probably picked up this brochure because you wondered either about your own gambling or the gambling habits of someone you care about. We’re glad you had the courage to do so, and we hope the following information will increase your understanding of this problem area.

What is Gambling?

Risking money or valuables in hopes of winning more than you’re risking is gambling. Calling it a “friendly bet,” or a “gentleman’s bet,” or saying “We’re just making the game a little more interesting” does not alter the fact that it is still gambling.

Gambling can include buying instant lottery tickets, playing the on-line or video lottery games, playing cards, dice, or dominoes, playing in casinos, playing slot machines, betting on sporting events (with or without a bookie), betting on the horses or greyhounds, betting on games of skill (bowling, pool, golf, video or arcade games), and many other activities.

But Doesn’t Everybody Gamble?

Most all of us have sat around and fantasized about what we would do if we won the lottery or hit it big in Las Vegas. But for most of us, these fantasies remain fantasies. Perhaps we buy an occasional lottery ticket, but that’s about it. And some people can gamble occasionally without it affecting their lives seriously.

But many can’t. Time magazine estimates that there are nearly eight million compulsive gamblers in America, one million of whom are teenagers. An Illinois criminal justice professor found eight times as many gambling addicts among college students as among adults. Closer to home, a study by the Texas Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling found that teenagers and young adults are at much greater risk for developing serious gambling problems than are adults.

In the central area of Texas (including Austin), the average gambler was more likely to be a White male (although females and minorities are definitely included), younger, never married, relatively well educated, but with an income on the low side.

More so than gamblers from other regions, the gambler from Central Texas said he liked gambling on games of skill, video lotteries, sporting events, high-risk investments, and card games. He said he gambled out of curiosity or for the challenge, he was more likely to have used alcohol or drugs, and he reports a higher number of substance problems. These problem gamblers also had significantly lower academic grades, and they were more likely to skip school.

What if a Friend has a Gambling Problem?

As we said at the beginning of this brochure, one of the hardest things about helping people with gambling problems is that they are very likely to deny they have any problem even when it’s obvious to people around them. “It’s no problem for me. I can quit any time I want.” “It’s not a big deal. I can cover my debts.” “When I’m hot, I win back even more than I’ve lost.” “My friends all bet on college football-it’s just for fun.”

If you think a friend has a gambling problem, show your concern. Don’t avoid the topic. Do avoid sermons, lectures, judging and verbal attacks, however. Don’t continue the conversation if you begin to feel impatient or angry. You may encounter defensiveness and denial. Don’t take this personally, but make it clear you’re concerned and tell the person how his or her gambling behavior affects you. You may have to set limits with the person. Don’t be manipulated into excusing, justifying, overlooking, enabling or participating in the person’s self-defeating behaviors.

If the person agrees that he or she has a problem, try to:

  • Remain supportive and reinforce even small efforts toward change.
  • Be prepared for some steps backward as a normal part of the recovery process.
  • Help the person make contact with recovering gamblers and organizations like the Counseling & Mental Health Center and Gamblers Anonymous.
  • Encourage activities that are not related to gambling, and curb your own gambling behaviors.
  • Educate yourself about problem and compulsive gambling.

 How to tell if Gambling is a “Problem.”

Here’s a self-test. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions:

1. Do you ever lose time at school or work due to gambling?

2. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial

3. After losing did you feel you must return to gambling as soon as possible to win back your losses?

4. Do you sometimes gamble until your last dollar is gone

5. Do you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

6. Have you ever sold anything to finance your gambling?

7. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?

8. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?

9. Has gambling ever made your life unhappy?

10. Has gambling ever been a source of conflict in a relationship?

11. Has gambling ever been a source of conflict with your parents?

12. Do you keep your gambling activities secret from some people for fear that they will be critical, angry, or concerned for your welfare?

13. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

14. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

15. Did gambling ever cause you to lose sleep?

16. Did you ever celebrate any good fortune by going gambling?

17. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?

18. Have you ever felt self-destructive as a result of gambling losses?

19. Have you ever claimed to be winning money gambling, but you weren’t really? In fact, you lost?

20. Have you ever felt like you would like to stop betting, but didn’t think you could?