Gambling addictions very often result in significant financial losses. It’s not uncommon for tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to be the gambling debt of a single individual.
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Credit cards are opened and used to their limits. Property and possessions are traded and sold. Bills go unpaid. Money is borrowed from family members and friends.
And at the end, the total cost of gambling has stacked up significantly.
What can you do?
Before any sort of financial plan to repay debts can begin, the problem gambler must first begin his or her recovery. Gambling must be stopped. Find the counselor, support groups or rehabilitation treatment center needed to keep the recovery on track and help begin to repair relationships with family members and friends. If you’re the problem gambler, you’ll have to work on your own relationship with yourself, building up self respect and hope for your future.
Find out how to seek help for problem gambling, and find the local opportunities for family members to get the support they need as they work to repair the consequences of addiction.
For a financial recovery to begin, there needs to be complete honesty about all debts that exist. Outline a comprehensive list of all debts, such as:
For progress to be made, every debt must be exposed to your spouse or head of household, anyone that depends on you for necessities, and anyone working with you to get out of debt, such as an attorney or trained counselor.
If you are the problem gambler, it is likely your access to your family’s paychecks, savings accounts and other financial accounts will be taken away. Early in your recovery, you will need to be focused on staying away from gambling opportunities, and being restricted from money sources will help everyone.
Someone else, such as your husband, wife or parents, will take responsibility for managing bills and making payments where necessary. He or she (or they) will be in charge of managing your finances, and may choose to give you money only when a purpose for its spending is defined. This lack of control for your own money can lessen overtime as your recovery progresses.
When you or the problem gambler you know begins seeing a counselor and/or members of a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, ask for advice on who to speak to about financial issues. Some counselors are prepared to help you immediately, while others will refer you to someone for debt management purposes.
Questions and matters that may be discussed include:
Every problem gambler’s debt situation is unique, and repayment plans must be customized based on the type of debts, amount of debt and income available to repay them. The best way to begin straightening out finances is to begin the process with complete honesty and professional guidance.
To find help for problem gambling or to help a recovery stay on track, contact the NYS HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY.
It’s a wager. You bet something of value – usually money – on an event with an uncertain outcome hoping to take home a bigger return. That shouldn’t be news to most people. About 85% of adults in the U.S. have gambled at least once in their life and the gambling industry takes in about $500 billion a year.
What might be news is that as many as 23 million Americans go into debt because of gambling and the average loss is estimated to be around $55,000.
So how do gamblers pay for their losses?
They “borrow” from credit cards, savings accounts, investment portfolios, retirement funds – anywhere there’s money or credit available – hoping to fund the one big bet that gets them back to even.
But if you’re out of luck and that pile of chips has turned into a pile of debt, the answer is not to go all in. The answer is to convince yourself to stop gambling altogether, and seek psychological help for the addictive nature of the problem.
Before you think about paying off your gambling debts, treat the root of the problem: an addiction to betting. It won’t do you any good to make a $1,000 payment on your credit cards, if you bet a $1,000 on this week’s big game and lose. You’re still in a hole, it’s just a little deeper.
Here are some ways to address your gambling addiction first. Once you get your mind right, then you can get your finances straightened out.
Online casino game logos. A gambling addiction affects more than just the gambler. The money lost at the casino could have gone to bills and to provide for a family. Friends and relatives that feel the effects of someone’s gambling problem can seek help from organizations like GamCare.
Family and friends absorb the fall out that comes when gamblers start searching for ways to cover their habits and their losses.
Family and friends are usually the first ones to recognize these signs. If you see this happening, bring it to the gambler’s attention and stand by them when they reach out for help at treatment centers or clinics.
Once the addiction has been treated, it’s time to deal with the debts that resulted. There are several avenues to address that issue, but one that seldom is suggested would be to put them in touch with a credit counselor from a nonprofit debt management agency.
The credit counselors can help them get on a budget and assist with things like reducing interest rates on credit cards. This is usually a long process so family and friends of a gamble should be patient while waiting for a successful outcome.
Gambling debt is no different than other types of debt. You often owe multiple people or creditors money plain and simple. You need to develop a plan to pay them back.
There is a tiny minority of people who make a living by gambling, but unless you are an expert in statistical analysis, you are most likely in the vast majority who don’t win.
If you are an expert in statistical analysis, you would know that the odds are stacked high against you. It’s one of the reasons the United States leads the world in gambling losses. According to the Economist magazine, U.S. gamblers lost $117 billion legally in 2016 and another $150 billion was wagered with bookies on illegal sports betting.
And there are plenty of places to place a bet.
The casinos in Nevada and New Jersey are the most obvious spots, but hardly the only places to gamble. Native American casinos operate in 28 states with annual revenue of nearly $30 billion.
And gambling does not have to take place in a casino at all. There are horse tracks, dog tracks, jai-alai frontons, daily fantasy leagues and online gambling sites for those so inclined. In fact, gambling of some kind is permitted in every state in the U.S., except in Utah and Hawaii.
The easiest place to gamble is probably right in your neighborhood where you can buy a state lottery ticket or play in the weekly poker game at a friend’s house. Either place can take a big bite out of the family budget if you spend $200-$300 a week to get your fix.
Most Americans are casual gamblers and can indulge from time to time without suffering any negative emotional or financial consequences. They gamble for relatively small sums and don’t bet more than they can afford to lose.
They just want some action. It’s a form of entertainment to them. Their small losses are simply the price of admission. And there is the thrill of winning. The satisfaction that you beat the odds, and this time it wasn’t luck!
Many other Americans are not casual gamblers. In fact, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), an estimated 2 million people in America meet the accepted criteria for addictive or pathological gambling.
As many as four million to six million people are classified as problem gamblers, and perhaps another 15 million are thought of as at-risk.
Problem gambling is a mental health disorder, in which the individual can’t control the urge to gamble. Like any addiction, problem gambling can cause major disruptions in personal, professional, and family life. It can also precipitate serious financial difficulties.
A problem gambler cannot stop gambling behavior despite the recognition of ever-increasing, serious negative consequences.
The most consistent distinguishing aspect of the problem gambler is that his or her finances are usually in some state of disorder. That means maxed-out credit cards, overdue bills, overdrawn checking accounts, and/or unpaid or neglected loans.
And they are often in debt.
The average debt generated by a man addicted to gambling is between $55,000 and $90,000. Women gamblers average $15,000 of debt.
In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in serious legal problems or financial ruin. More than 20% of compulsive gamblers end up filing for bankruptcy because of gambling losses.
The personal damage is also great: the divorce rate for problem gamblers is twice the rate of non-gamblers, and 1 in 5 addicted gamblers attempt suicide – 20 times the rate of non-gamblers.
Contributing to the debt problems of the compulsive gambler is all-too-easy access to credit: 90% of those suffering from gambling addiction withdraw cash advances from their personal credit card accounts in order to gamble.
Also, long gone are the days when a gambler has to leave the table because of a lack of funds. Casinos extend billions of dollars of loans to their customers each year in the form of credit markers. The casinos charge 3 to 10 percent interest or more for that service. In fact, only about half the money wagered in casinos are funds physically brought onto the premises. The rest is borrowed.
College students are among the most vulnerable when it comes to gambling. The combination of free time and easy access to student loan money doesn’t mix well. About 75% of college students have gambled in the last year, and 6% of young adults have a gambling problem— a higher rate than adults— according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
There are state lotteries that 18 year-olds can play, and some casinos have an 18+ policy on poker, but the real cause has been the rise of online gambling.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 tried to restrict online gambling, targeting poker sites such as PokerStars, Absolute Poker and Full Tilt Poker. Online poker has survived in the U.S. and these days online sports books like Bovada and 5Dimes are thriving.
Fantasy sports were declared a game of skill and excluded from the UIGEA, giving way to an explosion of daily fantasy sports leagues, like DraftKings and FanDuel, in recent years. You may remember them from their $200 million ad campaign in 2015. Fantasy sports have long been a popular recreational activity, with 57.4 million people playing in the U.S. and Canada in 2016. Now it has become a feeding ground for former online poker professionals.
When the U.S. Department of Justice indicted three of the main poker sites in 2011, they fled the U.S. market. Online poker players turned to daily fantasy sports. It’s a lucrative business for professionals with access to spreadsheets and algorithms that give them all the advantage over your average sports fan. DraftKings and Fanduel have faced their own legal problems of late, and are currently banned in 11 states.
A credit card is all it takes to get wrapped up in the world of online gambling. Before you know it, you’ve landed in a pile of credit card debt.
Don’t be afraid to seek help.