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.


Average Problem Gambler’s Debt: $38,090 [Gambling in the News]

$38,090. That’s the average debt of a problem gambler, according to the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling.

The organization fielded 13,081 calls to its helpline in 2016, many from people expressing desperation over their situation or that of a loved one. In a Post-Crescent article, Rose Blozinski, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling, recalled one case where a man called because his sister had run up $100,000 in gambling-related debt and had tried to commit suicide.

Excessive gambling is not a money problem.

Debt is a symptom of problem gambling. A person can engage in unhealthy betting behaviors regardless of their financial status. Compulsive gambling is actually rooted in the brain. Numerous studies have identified differences between problem gamblers’ brains and those of non-gamblers. For example, one recent study found that gambling addiction activates the same brain regions as those stimulated by drug addiction.

The solution to gambling addiction is not to pay off the gambler’s debts.

Helping a gambler pay down debts doesn’t solve the problem. Rather it can enable a gambler to continue the behavior. The path to recovery lies in a comprehensive treatment plan that includes a combination of therapies, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps the gambler “rewire” his or her thought processes;
  • Self-help groups, which provide a safe place for a problem gambler to find support from those in the same situation;
  • Stress reduction activities, which can help decrease cravings to bet;
  • Lifestyle changes, such as eliminating time spent in unhealthy situations, like visiting a casino with friends;
  • Financial counseling, which can provide smart money and debt management techniques to get back on track.
Learn More about Treating Problem Gambling

If you’re in the Lancaster or Lebanon area, visit our list of treatment providers with expertise in gambling addiction. You can also get in touch with our Compass Mark team for referrals, intervention information, and prevention resources. Call us at 717-299-2831 or use our online Get Help form.


Brain Activity Linked to Problem Gambling [Research]

Gambling addiction activates the same brain areas as cravings for alcohol and other drugs, according to recent research.  The study also revealed that problem gamblers showed a weaker connection between some areas of the brain.

The gambling study, conducted by an international team of researchers and funded by the UK Medical Research Council, found that gambling triggers activity in two brain areas, the insula and nucleus accumbens, in those addicted to the behavior. These regions are linked to rewards, impulse control, and decision making. Previous research had connected those areas to cravings for alcohol and other drugs.

In addition, the researchers discovered that problem gamblers showed a weaker connection between the nucleus accumbens and frontal lobe, which plays a role in decision making. Experts theorize that the weaker frontal lobe link makes it harder for a problem gambler to control impulses and easier to ignore the negative consequences of unhealthy gambling behavior.

The findings suggest that gambling addiction could possibly be treated in the future by controlling activity in those brain areas affected by gambling.

Gambling Resources for Health Care & Treatment Professionals

Treatment for Problem Gambling in Lancaster, PA, Lebanon, PA, and the Surrounding Area
Council on Compulsive Gambling in Pennsylvania
National Council on Problem Gambling
College Gambling Resources for Campus Health Professionals  

If you’re in Lancaster or Lebanon, you can also count on the Compass Mark Referral Team to guide you to the resources you need to help patients and clients.


Do Casinos Enable Problem Gamblers? [Gambling in the News]

What role do casinos play in the development or enablement of gambling addiction? John Rosengren recently investigated in How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts.

The article, published in The Atlantic, begins with the story of a gambling-addicted man on the brink of suicide after his behavior triggered criminal charges for alleged theft from his employer.

Rosengren’s reporting then reveals that casinos have developed a way to calculate the “predicted lifetime value” of an individual gambler. Repeat gamblers who lose lots of money are called “whales.” He reports that casinos often cater to “whales” to get their repeat business. In one case, the article recounts, an Iowa casino reportedly upped one frequent gambler’s limit on some slot machines and even gave her the opportunity to be the first to play a new slot machine the casino had installed.

The article also describes the potential danger of virtual reel slot machines, which use technology—not mechanics—to determine where the wheel stops. Furthermore, virtual slots create “near misses,” which give the player the impression he or she almost won—a tantalizing catalyst to bet even more. (Get more info on how gambling machines are addictive by design.)

Rosengren’s article is heartbreaking and worth the read.

Gambling addiction is a complex condition, and, while the role of casinos is certainly a factor to consider, specific risk factors also increase the chance of developing it. A few risk factors include:

  • Starting to gamble at an early age;
  • Having a history of impulsive behavior;
  • Having a family history of addiction;
  • Having a personal history of addiction;
  • Experiencing trauma.

If you’re concerned about your gambling behavior or that of someone you love, take the assessment quiz on our home page. You may also want to check out a list of Gambling Addiction Treatment Providers in Lancaster, PA and the surrounding area. For additional help, use our online help form.


Slots & Poker Apps: Gambling with Addiction? [Research]

People who play digital simulated gambling games were “significantly” more likely to report problem gambling behaviors, according to a recent Australian study.

Social casino gamers is a term that describes people who play simulated casino games that don’t involve real money wagers. Examples include apps that mimic slots or poker games.

The research, which was reviewed on the Worldwide Addiction Gambling Education Report (WAGER), was based on interviews with 2,010 gamblers. The results revealed that 15% of social casino gamers were at moderate risk for developing problem gambling, while 5% were problem gamblers.   Social casino gamers were also less likely to be non-gamblers. The group reported it was more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, too, including smoking and illegal drug use.

As noted in WAGER, the findings don’t necessarily say that social casino games create gambling addiction; it’s possible that people who are already at risk for problem gambling are more attracted to these types of games.

However, it’s also important to consider whether the findings could suggest that social casino gaming puts players at higher risk because it nurtures a false sense of skill. In addition, another study found that people who played free gambling games bet “significantly” more in real money games later than those who hadn’t played the free games. Gambling-like apps may also make gaming much more accessible to youth, potentially increasing their vulnerability to developing gambling problems later in life. Learn more about Kids and Simulated Gambling.

Problem Gambling Resources in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA

If you’re a concerned health care or mental health professional, visit Problem Gambling Resources, bookmark our Gambling Blog, or follow Compass Mark on Facebook for the latest in news, research, and training opportunities.


The Holiday Gifts You Shouldn’t Give to Your Kiddos: Problem Gambling Prevention

Got your holiday shopping wrapped up yet? (Pun intended!) Well, if you’re still hunting down presents for your younglings, there are a few ideas you may want to avoid: gambling-related toys and games.

What harm can gambling toys & games do to kids?

These types of gifts can increase a child’s potential for developing problem gambling, a diagnosable condition that impacts the gambler and their loved ones emotionally, physically, and financially.

Children and teens who begin to gamble at an early age are at higher risk for gambling problems later in life. However, a specific type of game may be putting even more kids at risk: gambling apps. Many kids’ wish lists include tablets or other mobile devices that give them access to games, including those with gambling themes.

Research suggests that youth who play simulated gambling games—those that don’t require actual money to play—are more likely to report gambling problems. Experts believe this is because gambling-type apps reinforce winning behavior without exposing kids to the real-world consequences of losing. Learn more in Simulated Gambling May Be a Gamble for Kids.

If you give tech gifts this year, engage parental controls to ensure your child can’t access gambling apps.

Other holiday gift ideas can reinforce unhealthy gambling behavior, too. Avoid giving kids gifts like:

  • Casino-themed card or board games, such as toy roulette sets;
  • Gambling-themed items, like slot machine piggy banks;
  • Scratch-off lottery cards.

Signs of Problem Gambling in Children & Teens

Now and throughout the year, stay alert for red flags that suggest your child or teen may have a gambling problem. Signs include:

  • Experiences mood swings based on whether they’ve won or lost;
  • Neglects school or work responsibilities to gamble or play gambling-type apps;
  • Begins hanging out with a new set of friends;
  • Steals or lies for money;
  • Sells prized possessions;
  • Shows a sudden interest in sports stats or scores (in those addicted to sports gambling).

A counselor trained to work with problem gamblers can assess and diagnose at-risk or addictive gambling behavior in a child or teenager. Call Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 for confidential guidance or visit Gambling Treatment Resources in Lancaster and Lebanon.


Faces of Gambling Addiction: Lanc. Man Finds Recovery (And How You Can Too)

A Lancaster County man recently shared his journey with gambling addiction, a diagnosable condition that endangered his marriage and his well-being. The Lebanon Daily News (LDN) article, written by Daniel Walmer, details the man’s decades-long addiction to gambling.

The man, Harry, recalls that once in the 1960s he became so involved in a card game that he missed his own birthday party–an event for which his sister had arranged to fly him into Cuba, where she was stationed at Guantanamo Bay.

Over time, the behavior escalated, and, by the mid-2000’s, Harry says he was spending as many as 10 to 12 hours a day in casinos.

Jean Gerdes, a problem gambling prevention coordinator with Compass Mark (the parent organization for this blog), said in an interview for the LDN piece that compulsive gamblers experience psychological withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, when they stop gambling. The article continues:

Even now, however, people are less likely to be understanding of a gambling addict who says they can’t make a simple bet on a putt at the golf course than an alcoholic who says they can’t take one drink, Gerdes said.

“There’s a lot of shame that goes with it, because we don’t recognize it as a disease,” she said.

As for Harry, he says he realized he needed help for gambling after an emotional breakdown and serious marriage problems. Now he attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings and counsels other people living with addiction.

Warning Signs of Gambling Addiction
  • Lying or acting evasively about gambling behavior;
  • Selling or pawning possessions;
  • Increasingly absent or tardy to work or school;
  • Exhibiting mood swings based on whether they’re winning or losing;
  • Willingness to wager on virtually anything at any time–not just at casinos, racetracks, online betting venues, or sports events.
Problem Gambling Help for Gamblers and Their Loved Ones

Gambling addiction can be treated in Lancaster, Lebanon, and the surrounding areas. Visit our list of Gambling Addiction Treatment Providers.

Help isn’t just for people struggling with the addiction themselves.  If your loved one is a problem gambler, you’ll benefit from therapy too. Like substance addictions, gambling is a family disease that impacts everyone–and not only from a financial standpoint. When you live with or love a gambling-addicted person, you might feel frustration, anger, embarrassment, guilt, or other negative emotions that take a toll on your own mental well-being.

Find your own path through a loved one’s compulsive gambling by contacting Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 or by using our Help Form. We’ll direct you to resources so you and other family members can learn healthy coping techniques and find hope.


Support Your Compulsive Gambling Recovery: Do’s and Don’ts

You’re ready to make positive changes in your life—and they don’t include gambling. The first step toward lasting change is to develop a treatment plan with the help of a gambling addiction counselor. Once you have a roadmap to recovery, use these do’s and don’ts to support your gambling-free life.

  • Do learn to cope with emotional triggers.
    A therapist trained to work with problem gamblers will help you pinpoint your gambling triggers, which may include stress, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness. Be alert to their appearance in day-to-day life, and take action by coping with them in a healthier way. For example, if you feel stress, find a healthy outlet like exercise.
  • Don’t neglect your emotional health.
    Problem gambling impacts every facet of life, from your relationships to your bank account. Even if you’ve committed to changing your life, you may be dealing with the consequences of gambling for years to come—and that can create the stress, anxiety, and fear that threaten recovery. Take care of your emotional health in a way that works for you, whether that’s talking with a therapist, starting a journal, or taking up a creative activity, like painting.
  • Do get a handle on finances.
    It takes time to rebuild financial resources lost to problem gambling. Consult a nonprofit debt counseling service to assess your money situation and create a plan for financial recovery. Support your new gambling-free lifestyle by committing to a budget and making lifestyle changes that save money.
  • Don’t keep your recovery a secret from those you love.
    Explain problem gambling, which is often misunderstood as a lack of willpower, to loved ones and let them know their support is important to your recovery.  Since problem gambling tends to fracture relationships, seek out family therapy to help begin the healing process.
  • Do make lifestyle changes that support recovery.
    Some changes may be financial. For example, you might restrict your access to cash by having a partner exclusively handle household finances. Other changes may focus on the people with whom you spend time. If you have friends who regularly gamble, it will be healthier for you to cut back or eliminate the time you spend with them.

For additional gambling recovery resources in Lancaster or Lebanon, contact Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 or use the Compulsive Gambling Help Form.




Problem Gambling: What Health Care Pros, Counselors Need to Know, Plus CEU Opportunity

What do you know about problem gambling? It wouldn’t be surprising if the answer was Not much. This serious and progressive condition often flies under the radar. March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, which makes now the ideal time to learn more about this addiction and how it might affect your patients or clients. Get the basics below, and then discover more information 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.)

Problem gambling is a public health issue.

The condition itself, which is classified in the DSM-5 as a behavioral addiction, affects 6-9 million Americans–about 2-3% of the population. Problem gamblers are at higher risk for other conditions as well, including clinical depression and substance abuse. However, as with other addictions, the impact spreads far beyond the addicted person’s own life. Compulsive gambling behavior breaks up marriages, fractures relationships with children, and affects work productivity.

Problem Gambling Resources for Health Care & Counseling Professionals

Compass Mark Referral Team Info
Problem Gambling Treatment in Lancaster, Lebanon, and the Surrounding Area
Gambling in Primary Care Patients: Why Should We Care and What Can We Do About It?
Center for Gaming Research
National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)

Learn more in the NCPG’s gambling infographic below.

Rat Study Shows Casino Environment May Trigger Riskier Gambling [Research]

Science is now proving what casino and game designers have long understood: environment can play a role in gambling behavior. A study, recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that adding lights and sounds to a gambling task changed how rats made decisions.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia trained rats to gamble for sugary treats. Then the team added lights and sounds to its “rat casino” to mimic the casino environment. After the addition, the rats’ behavior changed, and they began to take more risks to win treats.

“It seemed, at the time, like a stupid thing to do, because it didn’t seem like adding lights and sound would have much of an impact. But when we ran the study, the effect was enormous,” said Catharine Winstanley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, in a media release.

The researchers’ work didn’t stop at identifying environment as one potential catalyst for problem gambling behavior; they also found that when the rats in the casino-like environment were given a drug blocking a specific dopamine receptor, the rats no longer showed problem gambling behavior. Additionally, the team discovered the dopamine blocker had minimal impact on rats gambling without flashy lights or sounds.

Study authors note the drug finding is significant because it could help lay the groundwork for advancing treatment in substance addiction, which may share some of the same biological underpinnings as problem gambling.

For related game design-addiction information, check out Addictive by Design? How Gambling Machines Can Hook Players.

What does this mean for parents, educators, and other concerned adults?

This study recreated a casino-like environment—something most kids and teens can’t experience until they reach legal gambling age. However, gambling-type apps for smartphones and tablets can be surprisingly realistic and that has the potential to prime children’s brains for problem gambling.

Apps that incorporate slots and other casino games offer engaging play that includes casino-type lights and sounds. Many apps also feature cartoon-like characters that add a kid-friendly veneer to the experience.

Although game designers say their products are intended for adult use, the fact is that many games don’t have robust age verification systems, meaning there’s little to stop a smart kid from downloading an app despite his or her age.

Children and teens who play gambling-related apps aren’t necessarily destined for a life of gambling addiction; however parents and other concerned adults should consider that it could be problematic to introduce casino-type play to some children and teens, particularly those who already have risk factors for problem gambling.

Compass Mark offers age-appropriate gambling education and prevention resources for kids in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA. Call our team at (717) 299-2831 to learn which programs or materials will guide your children or teens into healthier decisions.