March Madness & Problem Gambling [Infographic]

For many people, March Madness is a time to enjoy friendly bets with family, friends, and coworkers. However, for some it can be a catalyst for problem gambling behavior, which can have a significant impact on school, work, and relationships.

If a person currently struggles with gambling addiction or is at risk for the condition, the annual NCAA tournament can create a path toward continued or deepening gambling problems.

Problem gambling isn’t a money issue. It’s a diagnosable and treatable condition in which a person is no longer able to make reasonable choices about betting. Like other addictions, it’s been linked to changes in the brain that affect decision-making abilities.

Signs of Problem Gambling
  • You find yourself lying or acting evasively about money.
  • You neglect responsibilities, like work or school, for gambling.
  • You have mood swings that depend on whether you’re winning or losing.
  • You have arguments with family or friends about money.
  • You’ve borrowed money to gamble or to pay for necessities because you lost money betting.
  • You’ve borrowed money without permission—even though you may intend to pay it back.
  • You’ve taken money out of dedicated accounts, like retirement funds or life insurance, to gamble.
  • You delay or avoid necessary purchases, like groceries or medicine, because you’d rather use your money to place bets.

This gambling infographic from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Rochester Area shares facts and stats about sports betting and March Madness.


2016 March Madness Bets Will Near $10 Billion—Is It a Gamble on Addiction?

Americans will wager an estimated $9.2 billion on March Madness in 2016, an increase from $9 billion in 2015, according to an industry association. What’s more, Americans will complete more than 70 million brackets this year—likely more than the estimated number of ballots that will be cast for any single candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

Millions of people will bet for fun in licensed gaming facilities, through wagering websites, and in office pools. But, for some, the NCAA tournament isn’t as harmless. The annual sports event has the potential to seriously impact the lives of many, including:

People at Risk for Problem Gambling

The wagering atmosphere can help nudge someone already vulnerable to gambling addiction into the condition. Learn more in Did March Madness Lead to April Sadness? Factors that boost the risk for compulsive gambling include:

  • Having current or past substance abuse;
  • Having a family history of addiction;
  • Experiencing physical, verbal, or sexual abuse;
  • Gambling for the first time at an early age;
  • Being a college student, senior, or military veteran;
  • Gambling as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness;
  • Going through major life transitions, such as job loss, divorce, or the death of a loved one.
Gamblers in Recovery

People recovering from gambling problems can face relapse challenges during March Madness. From office pools to game-watching parties, gambling triggers might be hard to avoid. Use these strategies to help avoid relapse:

  • Make appointments to see your gambling addiction counselor regularly throughout tournament season.
  • Attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
  • If the games themselves trigger gambling cravings, find a healthy alternative activity during game time. For example, take a long walk, work on a house project, or enjoy a movie with a friend.
  • Excuse yourself from having lunch or break time with co-workers if you know they’ll be talking about office pools.
  • Keep resources for gambling help nearby. In Pennsylvania, call the PA Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-877-565-2112.
  • Contact Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 for Lancaster and Lebanon help resources, including prevention, education, intervention, and treatment.

Learn more about the potential risks of fantasy sports at Compass Mark’s Start the Conversation: Fantasy Sports Gamble on Wednesday, March 30, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. This session, held at the Blair Room, 630 Janet Avenue, Lancaster, is worth 2 CEU credits.


March Madness- Potential Gateway to Problem Gambling?

That excitement you sense in the air may not be from the arrival of warmer weather…it may be coming from fans preparing for the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Many people who fill out a bracket in the coming weeks will wager responsibly. For others, March Madness betting is a potential gateway to problem gambling.

On the surface, that might sound like a big leap. However, according to Tim Otteman, a sports-related gambling expert from Central Michigan University, that’s exactly what can happen. He said:

“No one becomes an alcoholic before they have their first drink, and no one becomes a drug addict before they smoke their first joint. Similarly, no one becomes addicted to gambling on sports before they make their first bet—and frequently the first bet is filling out a bracket for the NCAA tournament.” (Science Daily)

Gambling becomes a problem any time wagering behavior has a negative impact on the gambler and those around him or her. Warning signs of gambling addiction include:

  • Increasing preoccupation with gambling
  • Taking the lead frequently to organize office pools or arrange bets among friends
  • Neglecting school or work to gamble
  • Experiencing mood swings based on outcomes: joyful when winning, depressed when losing
  • Becoming secretive about gambling frequency
  • Minimizing computer windows or changing smartphone screens when someone else enters the room
  • Continuing to bet after the money is gone
  • Cashing out education or retirement accounts to gamble
  • Pawning or selling possessions or valuables
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling

As with substances, like alcohol and other drugs, addiction to gambling changes how the brain makes decisions. A compulsive gambler is no longer able to control their behavior. People struggling with this addiction are also more vulnerable to other conditions, such as substance abuse, clinical depression, and suicide. (Learn more in 2 Ways Problem Gambling Can Trigger Suicide.)

How is problem gambling treated?

A therapist or counselor licensed to work with problem gambling will develop a treatment plan based on your unique needs. The foundation for treatment is typically talk therapy. This helps you identify the negative emotions (like stress or loneliness) that often contribute to its development.

The therapist will also help reframe your thought patterns so you’re able to view gambling in a new way. For example, some gamblers believe that having knowledge of player or team stats makes it more likely he or she will win when betting on sports. In fact, research suggests that knowledge of a sport has little impact on gambling success. Problem gambling therapy will focus on changing false beliefs so you can make healthier decisions.

Let Compass Mark guide you to the Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA gambling addiction resources you need. Call (717) 299-2831 or use the online help form for confidential, judgment-free guidance.

Learn more in:

Gambling Popular Among Male College Student-Athletes [Survey]

Self-Help Groups for Problem Gambling- FAQs