Gamblers are a unique breed, men and women who relish the endless battle between risk and reward. While most people consciously try to avoid risk throughout their daily lives, gambling enthusiasts pursue it, putting their hard-earned money on the line in hopes of securing a larger return. Blackjack players apply skill and strategy to give themselves a better shot at winning, while roulette fans and slot spinners hope to beat the odds through random luck.

But while the majority of gamblers view the activity as entertainment only – a way to blow of steam or enjoy a night out on the town – a select segment of the demographic struggles with deeper demons. According to the latest data compiled by the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help, approximately 2.6 percent of Americans suffer from gambling addiction in one form or another. That equates to more than 10 million compulsive gamblers in the U.S. alone, with countless millions more worldwide struggling to cope with a gambling habit.

Under the section for “Diseases and Conditions,” the Mayo Clinic website describes compulsive gambling as follows:

“Compulsive gambling, also called gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life.Gambling means that you’re willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value.Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction.

If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.” (Quote)

The problem has become so pervasive that 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have been co-opted to assist gamblers suffering from addictive tendencies.  The group Gamblers Anonymous (GA) was created by just two compulsive players back in 1957, but some 60 years later, chapters have formed in every corner of the globe.

Here’s how Gamblers Anonymous describes a compulsive gambler on the self-diagnosis page of its website:

“In Gamblers Anonymous, a compulsive gambler is described as a person whose gambling has caused growing and continuing problems in any department of his or her life.Many Gamblers Anonymous members went through terrifying experiences before they were ready to accept help.

Others were faced with a slow, subtle deterioration which finally brought them to the point of admitting defeat.” (Quote)

All things considered, given what we know today about the genetic influences of addiction and compulsive behavior, problem gambling is clearly a cloud over the entire industry. With casino operators largely interested only in padding their bottom line, and game designers continually tinkering with their products to ensure players pony up their dough, folks who may have trouble controlling their play face a serious uphill climb.

As they say in the 12-step programs, the first step toward conquering an addiction is acknowledging you suffer from one in the first place – admitting once and for all that you’re powerless over gambling. Of course, deciding whether or not you have a gambling habit that needs to be addressed is a wholly personal issue. But without accurate information to help guide your path, making that decision can be quite difficult indeed.

On that note, take a moment to consult the following list of seven warning signs that suggest you might be gambling too much. Take an honest personal inventory and ask yourself whether any of these issues may be cropping up in your own life. And if so, please make every effort to get involved with a group like Gambler’s Anonymous, or any other resource available to assist compulsive gamblers in their efforts to overcome addiction.

1 – Gambling Is Causing Harm to Your Real Life Relationships

The first sign that you may be gambling to excess is an inability to speak openly and honestly about your behavior. After all, if your gambling wasn’t a problem in the first place, you’d have no reason to deceive friends or family about the extent of your play. Unfortunately, many gamblers slowly slide into a situation wherein they’re unable to come clean about their gambling activity.

You might be hiding bank statements from your significant other in order to conceal ATM withdrawals and cash advances. Or maybe you tell your kids that you’ll be home for dinner, only to find yourself wasting the night away on the machines. Gamblers in the throes of an addiction have no problem hiding things from, or lying to, their loved ones in order to stay in the game.

And naturally, this destructive behavior tends to have a negative effect on one’s personal relationships. Despite what most gambling addicts believe, they aren’t fooling anybody with the deception and subterfuge. A husband or wife who suspects their partner of blowing the family savings will have alarm bells ringing instinctually, so even if the masquerade works for a while, it’s sure to fall apart at some point down the road. Things falling apart will become a routine for problem gamblers, as they burn bridges behind them while chasing the next win.

Compulsive gamblers tend to take out loans from close acquaintances, seldom paying the funds back in a timely manner. Gambling addicts may miss work unexpectedly, or forget to take care of basic family duties and obligations owing to the long hours spent away from home. All things considered, when your gambling activity begins actively interfering with real life, it may be time to take a step back and evaluate the situation objectively.

Here’s what Gamblers Anonymous has to say about the potential consequences compulsive gambling can have on your personal life:

“A person in the grip of this illness creates mountains of apparently insolvable problems.Of course, financial problems are created, but they also find themselves facing marital, employment, or legal problems. Compulsive gamblers find friends have been lost and relatives have rejected them. Of the many serious difficulties created, the financial problems seem the easiest to solve.” (Quote)

As the group makes clear, gamblers suffering from an addiction will almost always prioritize their play above anything else. Friends, family, work – none of it matters when compared to the roller coaster like rush that comes from winning and losing at the casino.

2 – You’re Betting More Than You Can Afford to Lose

Another telltale sign associated with compulsive gambling is not knowing when – or how – to walk away. For the legions of recreational gamblers that visit Las Vegas each and every year, losses have a definitive limit. They might take $50 to the roulette table, or buy in to a poker game with $200, but once those initial funds are exhausted, the fun ends right then and there. Maybe they hit the nightclub next, or find a sunny spot by the swimming pool, but these players simply end their gambling session without a second thought – win or lose.


For the compulsive gambler, on the other hand, the idea of limits is thrown out the window altogether. These players have no problem heading to the ATM machine for a refuel when their funds are low, several times in a single session in fact. And when their checking or savings is tapped out, the problem gambler will happily take out a cash advance – at a huge markup mind you – to keep themselves in the action.

The Mayo Clinic describes this compulsion to keep playing, no matter the financial cost, as follows:

“Unlike most casual gamblers who stop when losing or set a loss limit, people with a compulsive gambling problem are compelled to keep playing to recover their money – a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time.”

The idea of “getting even” or “winning it back” lies at the heart of a problem gambler’s compulsion. When the casino’s inherent house edge rears its ugly head and produces a loss, these players trick themselves into believing their luck is due to balance out. The casino got their winners, as the argument goes, so the scales are sure to tip back in your favor… right?

Wrong. Casino games – from the player-friendly blackjack tables to the money hungry slots – are all designed expressly to do one thing and one thing only, and that’s beating players. The payouts, odds, and probabilities may vary from game to game, but they always combine to create one inevitability above all else – the player always loses over the long run.

That concept of the long run doesn’t even register for problem gamblers though, as they’re always focused on the short term.

“I’ve lost four times betting on Black, so it’s sure to hit soon… just need to keep firing away until it does.”“Last week the casino cleaned my clock, this time I’m due.”

“This guy can’t keep beating me playing those trash hands, one more buy-in and I’ll get those chips back.”

Problem gamblers tell themselves little lies like this to justify spending money they can’t afford to lose. While most people would balk at draining a bank account just to play more baccarat, gambling addicts don’t view the funds as real money when they’re on the casino floor.

Why do you think casinos use chips instead of cash in the first place? By buying into the illusion that the money isn’t real, many players can make disastrous financial decisions while in the midst of a gambling spiral. At the time, it all feels like fun and games, winning some and losing some until the sun comes up.

Reality sets in when the player gets home, however, only to discover that the month’s rent check went up in smoke while spinning the roulette wheel one last time – and then just once more after that.

3 – The Lines Between Work/Home and the Casino Have Become Blurred

One sign that your gambling activity has taken a turn for the worst is when you find yourself putting play above other obligations at home or work. When you’re using sick days to get in a few extra hours on the tables, or coming home hours after dinner has gone cold, it’s time to reevaluate what really matters most in your life. Marilyn Lancelot is a self-professed compulsive gambler who spent seven years driving 9 hours round-trip to Laughlin, Nevada – every single weekend – in search of an outlet for her addiction.

Over time, Lancelot’s love for casino games – specifically, the scourge known as slot machines – spiraled into an addiction that consumed every aspect of her life. Upon entering Gambler’s Anonymous and working through the 12 steps, Lancelot overcame her habit. In search of ways to assist fellow gambling addicts, Lancelot wrote “Gripped by Gambling” – a book about her struggles with compulsive gambling – in 2007.

In the book, Lancelot reveals how here cravings for casino action compelled her to neglect duties at home and at work:

“A person with gambling addiction may feel compelled to ‘slip away’ from work, family, or social events to gamble.The gambling will begin to have serious emotional and financial consequences.

Gambling addicts often make repeated attempts to stop gambling or reduce their gambling, but often continue gambling despite the seriousness of the consequences.” (Quote)

Ideally, gambling should be enjoyed like any other source of entertainment – intermittently, and when the occasion calls. A weekend trip to Sin City with your old college buddies makes perfect sense, but driving by yourself to Laughlin week in and week out? Not so much…

Recreational gamblers have no issues separating their play from real life responsibilities because to them, gambling is just that – play. Casino trips are a merely a fun way to spend an evening, just like hitting up Top Golf or going out for a sunset hike. Once these players leave the casino, their minds immediately move on to the next thing that matters more, whatever that happens to be.


But for the compulsive gambler, leaving the casino simply begins a dangerous cycle. Whether they’ve won or lost, their mind will almost immediately hone on in returning. Maybe they want to win their losses back, or continue a heater by piling up more profits – but they’re definitely not interested in heading home for family movie night.

When you feel yourself beginning to be “pulled” back to the casino, and away from the things that matter most, take that as a sign that your gambling has slid from hobby to habit.

4 – You’re Resorting to Theft and Other Crimes to Support Your Habit

When problem gambling really gets out of control – the bank accounts are tapped, credit lines are exhausted, and loans are unattainable – the real trouble can begin.

All it takes is a quick Google search for “casino + robbery” to pull up endless accounts of down on their luck gamblers making the worst decision of their lives. The fact of the matter is, money talks in the gambling world, and without funds on hand to continue playing, a compulsive gambler can feel like a fish out of water, lacking the very oxygen they need to survive. And for an unfortunate few, that lack of access to financial resources can easily lead to the commission of crimes.

In her book “Gripped by Gambling,” Lancelot described her own brush with the law after she was caught embezzling funds from her employer:

“Some of the lowest periods in my gambling were the times when I wanted to die; when my credit cards were maxed out, when I began embezzling money from my employer, and when I realized I couldn’t do anything about my gambling.But the very lowest was when the police came and took me away in handcuffs for a crime I committed to support my habit.”

Fortunately for Lancelot, the cold grip of handcuffs served as a wake-up call, and she wound up entering Gamblers Anonymous shortly after her arrest. Today, through the publication of “Gripped by Gambling,” Lancelot works as an advocate for problem gamblers who may be heading down the same dark path she once followed.

Fellow compulsive gambler Scott Stevens wasn’t as lucky, as retold in a harrowing account published in 2016 by The Atlantic:

“When Stevens ran out of money at the casino, he would leave, write a company check on one of the Berkman accounts for which he had check-cashing privileges, and return to the casino with more cash.He sometimes did this three or four times in a single day. His colleagues did not question his absences from the office, because his job involved overseeing various companies in different locations.

By the time the firm detected irregularities and he admitted the extent of his embezzlement, Stevens – the likable, responsible, trustworthy company man – had stolen nearly $4 million.” (Quote)

After draining his family’s entire savings, including his daughter’s college fund, Stevens found himself stealing from his workplace by cutting fraudulent checks. Eventually, this embezzlement came to light just like Lancelot’s did, but Stevens didn’t seek assistance like she did. Instead, having convinced himself that his life insurance policy was the only way to save his family from financial ruin, Stevens did the unthinkable – shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun in a highly publicized suicide.

The stories of Lancelot and Stevens bear striking similarities, but the endings couldn’t be further from one another. On that note, never hesitate to explore programs like Gamblers Anonymous if criminal activity is being used to support your gambling habit. Theft can be repaid, and the penalties for crime can be served, but there’s no coming back from a decision like the destitute and desperate Stevens forced himself to make.

5 – Casino Staff and Fellow Players Know You by Name

The previous entry was admittedly quite heavy, and while the scope of gambling addiction cannot be understated, let’s go with a lighter topic to balance the proverbial scales. One sign that you may be gambling to excess occurs when you’re on a first-name basis with dealers, cocktail servers, and pit bosses. Forming friendly relationships with casino employees isn’t a problem in and of itself, mind you, but it can be an indicator that you’re playing more than might be healthy.

The same goes for other players, as “regulars” will wind up becoming acquainted with one another over time. This goes back to the symptom of playing at all hours described earlier, because when you’re the only two players at the video poker bar come sunup, it can be easy to make a new friend.

If you can’t walk through the casino floor without shaking a few hands or exchanging a few war stories, it may be time to take a step back and explore other hobbies.

6 – The Casinos Are Lavishing You with Comps

This one can be a double-edged sword of sorts, as complimentary nights at the hotel, buffet vouchers, and free-play coupons are cool rewards to earn through regular play.  These are rebates, after all, so you’re balancing out losses with comps and other freebies.

But when you think things through from the house’s perspective, a steady stream of comp offers coming in the mail can be seen as a warning sign. Casinos use player tracking tools like club cards and pit boss monitoring to identify their more lucrative players – read: long-term losers. And when they spot a whale, comps are the harpoon used to drag the catch in.

7 – You’re Not Having Fun Anymore

On a final note, gambling should remain fun, first and foremost.  You’re playing games of chance and skill, and while money is on the line, the objective should remain enjoyment – not financial gain.

The minute gambling becomes a chore, or an activity you pursue simply out of habit alone, it’s time to take a step back and assess why you’re at the casino in the first place. If it’s not to have fun, get out of dodge and find a new hobby that actually makes you happy.


Look for these 7 signs that you might be gambling too much. If any of them ring true, take a few moments to reflect on your activities, and get help if you need it.

Related Articles
Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *