Gambling Addiction


Gambling involves risking money or something of value on an activity that is primarily determined by chance. It has existed in virtually every society since prerecorded history and is incorporated into many local customs and rituals.

While most individuals participate in gambling activities for enjoyment and social interaction, a small percentage become seriously involved in terms of time invested and money wagered. Individuals who develop a problem with gambling experience substantial and negative personal, family, work and financial effects.

Unlike games of pure chance, where the outcome is completely random and uncontrollable, some activities like card playing or sports betting involve the use of skills that can improve the chances of winning. However, the overwhelming majority of gambling activities are based on chance alone (Bolen & Boyd, 1968). The various types of gambling activities include pari-mutuels (horse and dog tracks, off-track betting parlors, jai alai), lotteries, casinos (slot machines or poker), bookmaking (sports books and horse race books) and bingo (Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, 2007).

Many individuals who develop a problem with gambling are men; women gamble less than men and tend to have fewer problems with gambling. Gambling can occur at any age but young children, teenagers and young adults are particularly vulnerable. It is important for parents to understand that gambling can have serious consequences for their children and take steps to prevent it.

People with a gambling addiction often experience distressing symptoms that interfere with their daily functioning, including anxiety and depression. Symptoms may also affect the performance of work or studies, damage relationships and lead to job loss or homelessness.

The prevalence of gambling in the United States has increased rapidly during the past several decades. The causes of this increase are multifaceted. Some of these factors include an economic downturn that resulted in greater emphasis on income and wealth, a rapid growth of business, a societal shift from traditional family structures to nuclear families, the development of more accessible gambling venues, technological advances, and changes in the social and cultural norms that encourage risk-taking behaviors.

Symptoms of gambling addiction can affect anyone, regardless of race, gender, income level or education. They can be present in anyone from adolescents to seniors and can include a wide range of behaviors.

People with a gambling addiction often experience stress in their lives that leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive gambling. Changing these behaviors can help alleviate these negative symptoms and lead to a happier, healthier life. If you suspect that you or someone you know has a gambling addiction, talk to a health professional. There are many resources available to help overcome a gambling disorder, from counseling to inpatient programs. Many of these programs are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and include finding a sponsor, or a former compulsive gambler who can offer support and guidance. During treatment, it is also important to seek care for any underlying mood disorders that are contributing to the gambling behavior.

Lottery and State Governments

Lottery is a game in which people pay for a chance to win a prize, the value of which depends on an element of chance. In the United States, state governments conduct lotteries. In some countries, private companies run lotteries. The lottery can be played online, through the mail or over the telephone. Federal law prohibits mailing and other forms of interstate commerce promotion of lotteries, but does not ban the sale or purchase of tickets itself.

The popularity of lotteries is often linked to state governments’ need for revenue. Lottery revenues expand quickly and dramatically after introduction, but then tend to level off or even decline. To sustain revenues, lotteries introduce new games frequently.

These new games have various names, such as instant or scratch-off tickets. The prizes for winning these games are smaller than those in the main drawing, but the odds of winning are much greater, on the order of one in several million. Using these new games, state lotteries seek to make their offerings more attractive to the public.

One important message pushed by lotteries is that they are a source of “painless” revenue. This argument argues that lotteries enable the state to raise money without raising taxes or cutting programs for its poorest residents. It is an argument that appeals most strongly in times of economic stress. But studies have shown that the actual fiscal circumstances of the state do not seem to be related to whether or when a state adopts a lottery.

A key problem with this argument is that it assumes that the benefits of a lottery are so large that they will outweigh any harms. In reality, lotteries have been found to cause a variety of social problems, including increased gambling addiction, diminished family and community life, and reduced educational achievement.

Many states have reacted to these problems by expanding the types of programs they support through lottery proceeds. But these programs have been criticized for their insufficient focus on preventing gambling addiction and for their tendency to treat gambling as a minor vice rather than as a serious problem.

The main argument that state governments use to promote lotteries is that they serve a “public interest.” This argument holds that, in addition to being an efficient and economical source of funds, lotteries also provide a valuable service by helping to reduce gambling addiction. Some of this benefit is indirect and relates to the effects that gambling has on society in general, but a substantial portion of it is direct and relates to the ways in which state governments promote and operate lotteries. As a result, the argument is flawed on both substantive and moral grounds. This article provides a detailed analysis of this argument and discusses why it should be rejected. It also offers suggestions for improving the effectiveness of state policies to reduce gambling addiction and other harms caused by lotteries. It is based on an essay originally published in the journal, Law and Contemporary Problems.