Gambling is the activity where an individual risks money or something of value on an unknown outcome in hopes of gaining something of value (money, prize, possession, etc.). When gambling, you might leave with less money than you started off with, and sometimes with nothing at all.
Gambling takes many forms. It can be playing lottery games, playing casino games, betting on sports or events, or bingo. Many people enjoy gambling, whether it’s the excitement of taking a chance on a big outcome, or taking part in gambling on a more regular basis as a form of entertainment. Gambling is not a bad thing, but there are risks and it is important to be informed on the odds and outcomes of each gambling activity, so that informed and safer choices can be made.
For starters, risk taking. The sense of anticipation creates a natural high, an adrenalin rush, a feeling that many individuals seek out in their fun and entertainment choices, even to the point that some will believe that they cannot live without it. Yet, there is the misperception of many that gambling is actually a low-risk, high reward entertainment choice. It’s actually a high-risk, low reward situation. The odds always favor the house. Despite this, individuals seek out the excitement of “hitting it big,” regardless of the probability.
For some individuals, gambling is a way to be social with their friends and co-workers; the media reinforces this by portraying gambling as fun, sexy, glamorous and fashionable. For others, gambling can be a way to get away and be surrounded by different people, sounds and emotions. Whether it be financial problems, boredom, depression, grieving, or not wanting to think or worry about their troubles, gambling for some is seen as a way to escape from and cope with life.
Anyone can develop a problem with gambling. Individuals who have problems related to their gambling come from many backgrounds. They can be rich or poor, young or old, male or female. Problem gambling can affect people of every race, every religion, and every education and income level. It happens in small towns or big cities.
Gambling begins as a social activity. It seems fun and normal. During this phase, people:
- Sometimes win large amounts of money
- Feel invincible, so they bet bigger amounts
- Bet even more to maintain the excitement level
But gambling isn't always about money. Some individuals like the excitement of gambling, the dream of winning big, or the escape from everyday problems or stresses.
This is where the real trouble begins. Individuals who experience problems with their gambling often feel like their activity is under control; but in reality, it’s not. During this phase, people:
- Seek more action
- Believe they can quit whenever they want to – but see no need to quit
- Gamble to win back what they've lost
- Gamble and then lie about it
- Hide their losses
- Take out loans so they can continue
- Break their promises to quit
- Borrow from family and friends
- Have relationships that begin to suffer
Individuals who experience problems with their gambling go through this state just before they hit rock bottom. During this phase, people:
- Feel desperation and hopelessness as losses continue to mount
- Cling to their fantasy of winning – hoping to make everything well again
- Finally realize that they can't win, but keep gambling anyway
- Have little concern for the people around them
- Steal, write bad checks or commit illegal activities to finance their gambling
The reality is some individuals with an undiagnosed gambling disorder may attempt suicide before they seek treatment.
Research has found that gambling activates the brain's reward system in much the same way that alcohol or other drugs do. Just like alcohol and other drugs, some individuals may be more prone to developing problems. As an individual gambles more, it can overstimulate the brain’s reward system, causing a reaction in the brain that reduces the level of pleasure felt. This change in brain chemistry causes the individual to gamble more to feel the pleasure they seek.
Types of Gambling
Most gambling games can be categorized into two categories; those that are chance-based, and those that are skill-based games. It is important to know that while chance plays a greater role in chance-based games, chance is a big factor in skill-based games.
Chance-Based (100% dependent on chance)
Individuals have no way to affect or influence how the game will end, and whether they’ll win or lose their bet.
- Casino table games
- Lottery daily numbers (Mega Millions®, Powerball®)
- Lottery Pull-tabs
- Lottery Scratch tickets
- Slot machines
- Video Poker/Keno/Blackjack
Individuals who engage in chance-based gambling can get into trouble by overestimating the degree of control they have over the outcome of the game.
Skill-based (individuals participating have some influence, but chance remains a factor in the outcome)
- Individuals can use betting strategies and techniques based on related knowledge or other individuals’ decisions and behavior.
- Fantasy Sports Contests
- Racetrack betting (horses/dogs)
- Sports Betting
Individuals who engage in skill-based gambling can get themselves into trouble by overestimating their skill level and degree of control they have over the outcome of a game.
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