Gambling is popular in the United States, as well as almost every other part of the world. From Las Vegas to Macau, we can find huge and sought after gambling meccas across every continent, except for—maybe—Antarctica.
Who knows, there might be some underground gambling hub there too! Gambling comes in all different forms, from slots, roulette, and blackjack to Texas Hold ’Em, Keno and more.
In some states and countries gambling is even illegal, and you’ll find these forbidden games take the form of everything from cockfights and dice games to underground poker rooms.
Betting, which is also a form of gambling, has its own level of popularity and can be found all around the world, even in places where gambling is heavily restricted, like in much of the Arabian subcontinent. This can include horse races, professional sports, and even some college-level sports.
A lot of states in the US have the lottery, sweepstakes, and raffles, and even those that don’t usually have some form of bingo.
Gambling simply involves an activity centered around winning money by risking the loss of money. There’s always more to it than that, but that’s why all the previous examples meet the criteria.
With gambling becoming legal in more and more places (even spreading quite a bit online), more and more people are being led to gamble who might not have done it before because they didn’t want to go into a casino or to a racetrack.
You may not even know that you are that kind of person until you give it a shot.
Now don’t get me wrong—this post isn’t at all about trying to prove that gambling is bad. Far from it. Instead, I want to give you a realistic understanding of some of the pitfalls of gambling and how to avoid them.
Gambling can certainly be a fun and totally reasonable form of entertainment, but just like any other form of entertainment, there can be drawbacks if it gets out of hand.
1- Gambling May Be Addictive for a Very Small Portion of the Population
I will start with this—if you are prone to addiction or have a habit forming personality, gambling is definitely not going to be something you want to dabble in.
Is gambling addiction something that’s common or that you should be worried about? Almost certainly not (if you don’t have an addictive personality). According to the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help, approximately 2.6% of the U.S. population has some form of gambling addiction.
Those numbers are really low, and when you take into account how many people in the U.S. have probably gambled at least once or twice in their lifetimes without any consequences, you’ll see that, just like drinking, the vast majority of people can handle it just fine and enjoy it the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed—as a form of entertainment.
Obviously gambling addiction is not something to take lightly. Gambling addiction can have a terrible effect on a family and end up with severe consequences. It’s important that, just like with other potentially addictive behaviors, that you know your limits and keep yourself from going too far.
If you can’t do that, gambling may not be for you.
Here’s a story that can illustrate just what gambling addiction can look like. I think it’s important for new gamblers to see what gambling addiction can look like so they can catch it in themselves, but that being said, it’s so rare that for most people, it’s not an issue.
When Shirley was in her mid 20s, she and some friends road tripped to Las Vegas, her first time to experience gambling. A decade later, while she was working as an attorney, she would occasionally drop into Atlantic City, one of the few gambling meccas here in the US.
A couple of decades later, she was skipping work 4 times a week to visit new casinos in Connecticut. Her game was blackjack, and she would risk thousands of dollars at a time. She would then find herself having to scrounge for change just to be able to pay the toll while driving.
Shirley bet every dime she ever earned and maxed out several credit cards. She said, “I wanted to gamble all the time. I loved it. I loved the high I felt.” The story gets sadder unfortunately. The law would end up intervening in her life in a pretty dramatic way.
Shirley was convicted of stealing a lot of money from her clients and spent a couple of years in prison. She began to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings, seeing a therapist and reevaluating her predicament. It took her a long time to realize that she was powerless over gambling, and that as long as it was in her life, her life would be unmanageable.
Gambling addiction has been a controversial topic over the last couple of decades. People finally see it for what it is, but 10 years ago experts had a hard time grasping the idea that a person could be addicted to gambling the same way a person could be addicted to alcohol. I think this makes sense to most people—the vast majority of people are going to be able to handle gambling just fine, just like the vast majority of people can handle drinking just fine.
Shirley was never told she was an addict by professionals. She had to figure that out for herself. Professionals finally acknowledge that gambling is as real of an addiction as drug addiction is, but you can certainly understand why this was controversial for so long.
I think the real takeaway here is that it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly if you’re actually a gambling addict. If you are gambling money you can’t afford to lose, if you’re not looking at it as an entertainment expense, if you even have that question in your mind, “Am I addicted to this?” then you probably need to take a close look at that.
The average person doesn’t run into these problems, or at least can stop immediately if they come up.
Remember, this is really rare, but it’s definitely something to watch out for if you’ve never really gambled before.
2- Gambling has the potential to increase your greed
Let me try to create a deeper understanding of greed. Greed is an excessive love or desire for money or material possessions. Caring about money and providing for your family while living a lifestyle that’s comfortable is one thing, but greed is when you care too much about money, or material things.
Greed has negative effects on spiritual and emotional health and can really cause great detriment to our inner life. Longing for possessions or money in an unhealthy way can create a lot of anxiety, restlessness, and depression.
Then comes the false assurance that when we gain money and or material possessions we will be put at ease and feel better. It’s a cycle that becomes vicious in no time.
Unfortunately, excessive gambling can create an atmosphere for the birthplace of greed. When you win a few times and end up with a big chunk of change that normally requires a lot of work to obtain, you can find your mindset around money shifting.
Greed can cause a person that has a winning streak to keep playing until they have another winning streak. More times than not, a person ends up losing their winnings.
While that’s really common (casinos are designed to win your money back after all), what’s not so common is getting caught up in the idea that you have to play for the sole purpose of getting more money to buy nice things (instead of playing with the idea in the back of your head that you’re paying money to be entertained and any winnings are pure luck—which they are).
There are things that can cause a person to lose their ability to think or act rationally when gambling. This could include thrill, panic, desperation, and, of course, greed. This can bleed into other areas of your life if you’re not careful.
The takeaway here is to gamble the same way you drink—in moderation. A little can go a long way with any form of entertainment you pay for. You need to be careful when you win and ask yourself—am I still playing because it’s fun, or am I playing solely for the money?
So again, there are people that can gamble and have healthy relationships with it. It’s not a bad thing for everyone. If you’re not that person, or think you’re probably not, or have an addictive personality and have never gambled, then hopefully this brief message can save you from a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering!
Is there anything else that you think is a big pitfall of gambling that I should have mentioned? Let me know in the comments!