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Trigger warning: Gambling Addiction, Suicide
Hi, my name is (anonymous), a problem gambler, and my last bet was placed June 11, 2021.
Those are the words I say before sharing bits and pieces of my story during my weekly online problem gambling meetings.
I have always had an affinity for risk, games, sports, and gambling. Throw that in the bag with a few other life experiences and personality traits, and I have long been predisposed to have a higher risk of developing a gambling problem.
As someone who has experienced financial struggles from gambling of all sorts, the dangers of online gambling are apparent to me. For those who have dabbled with or considered entering the world of online gambling, I hope a small sample of my story coupled with some relevant statistics is enough evidence to make you reconsider that decision.
If you happen to find yourself in the trappings of online gambling, I’ll offer up some resources and advice on where to start and how to work toward tackling this addiction.
In 2021, online gambling comes in many forms. Pick your poison. Online poker, traditional casino games, live casino dealers, sports betting and daily fantasy sports are just some of the more popular options.
Thanks to design innovation, frictionless accessibility, and its products’ inherent addictiveness, the online gambling industry has seen tremendous growth in recent years. In 2020, the online gambling industry boasted revenues of over $65 billion, and experts predict this figure to eclipse $100 billion by 2026. That’s Dr. Evil type of money!
While all that is growth occurs on a macro-level, the individual users feeding that ecosystem are experiencing losses from as little as $20 to life-crushing disasters. The potential for a fun past-time to develop into a costly addiction has never been higher.
But, of course, the cost doesn’t merely impact your bank account. The emotional, social, psychological, logistical and several other types of consequences pile up the more deeply the player becomes immersed. It may sound extreme to those not familiar with this type of addiction. Still, it is not entirely uncommon for gamblers to take their own lives due to their treacherous financial position post-gambling. Not to mention the shame and overwhelm that comes with it. Problem gamblers are 15 times more likely to commit suicide.
The instant gratification of a big win coupled with the next opportunity can become highly addictive, and somewhere along the way, it can be all too easy to forget that you’re playing with real money.
In a world akin to a video game, the numbers on the screen feel more like a scoreboard than a bank account balance. Except, this time, when it is game over, you can’t just press restart and be back at the beginning. You don’t get any extra lives for chasing down a golden mushroom.
With instant bankroll re-loads (often placed on credit cards) and endless types of games available, it can be easy to lose sight of the amount of time you’re spending and the real money you’re losing. Since the losses are void of the tactile experience of losing cold, hard cash, they just don’t feel the same. Casinos use chips, so the money doesn’t feel as real. Numbers on a screen feel even more fictitious.
On the flip-side, even if you find yourself operating from the rational part of your brain and decide it is time to cash out, in some cases, it can take up to two weeks for the funds to reach your bank account. This deliberate inconvenience often deters players from removing funds from the site: two seconds to re-load, two weeks to remove.
Here are some of the findings that stuck out to me during my research for this article:
According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, 24% of gamblers experience financial problems.
Over 10 million Americans have a gambling addiction.
64% of players increased their online gambling activities during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
US online gambling statistics show that 57% of online gamblers in the US are female.
Those are some of the stats. Scary enough. Now, how about some real-life horror stories from yours truly?
Well, the short answer is, it has put me further into debt. Despite having large five-figure wins on my gambling resume, I eventually lost control of my gambling behaviour.
I would lose large portions of my paycheque over the course of one weekend. I never really let it progress to the point where I couldn’t pay my bills, but I wasn’t always paying them with cash. I was in the quicksand of high-interest consumer debt, right up against the brink of financial destruction.
Instead of quitting and moving on, I would try to win again. Big wins had gotten me out of jams many times before. Gambling was what got me into the mess, but it also felt like the only thing that could get me out.
Looking back at the bank statements is a sickening feeling. Multiple $100 to $300 deposits in succession made at all hours of the day symbolize the chasing of losses. So often, I would keep going until I hit my daily limits, and I had no choice but to stop.
“Game responsibly” has become the widespread euphemism deployed by marketing teams to suggest such a thing is possible for an addict. If this is the tagline, clearly gaming irresponsibly is very possible. Once some people reach a certain point, there is no such thing as gaming responsibly. Of course, you never think it is going to be you — until it is.
Gabor Mate, an expert on addiction, defines it as “any behaviour that a person finds relief and therefore craves in the short-term, but suffers negative consequences in the long-term and doesn’t give up despite the negative consequences.”
I knew that gambling was a problem for me long before I decided to quit. But, unfortunately, it often takes a rock bottom event to catalyze change. I had mine when I lost more than a month’s salary in a matter of minutes.
For those reading this that think they might have a problem or fear their recreational gambling could develop into problematic behaviour, here are some tell-tale signs that you’re losing control.
Breaking your own rules and going behind your limits.
Using gambling to escape your problems.
Constantly thinking about the next time you will get to play.
Investing increasing amounts of money for the same feeling of high/enjoyment.
As someone who eventually lost control of their gambling, I can’t help but primarily suggest that you refrain from online gambling entirely.
Think about it. If you lose, you’ll probably want to win it back. If you can let it go, then you’re down money overall. If you win, it will feel like such easy money that you’ll think, “Wow, that was fun and easy, let’s do that again!” Heaven forbid you win a large sum of money like I did. Good luck doing that just one time…
If you think online or any other form of gambling might be a problem for you, it probably is. Still not sure? Take the 20 questions from Gamblers Anonymous to objectively assess how much of a problem gambling is for you. At my worst, my score was 15/20. Anything beyond 7 is considered problem gambling.
If you have recently decided to quit any form of gambling and are looking for more content on the subject, I highly suggest the After Gambling Podcast.
With addiction, it’s easy to find small stop-gaps that can help you take a momentary pause of relief from your habits. Maybe if you tell a friend, maybe if you cut up your credit card, you’ll have no reason to go back. But, the reality of any addiction is that it requires more than band-aid solutions. For most problem gamblers, individual and group therapy sessions are an integral part of their recovery.
For that reason, it’s always best to speak to a professional for guidance and steps you can take to build the necessary tools to control your addiction.
Whether gambling is currently a problem for you or not, it is smart to be aware of the addictive nature of these games and if you choose to wager your hard-earned money – do so with caution or even with that expectation that you will eventually lose. Remember, only an incredibly small percentage of those who gamble, especially online, end up profitable.
The increasing number of billions-of-dollars the industry is churning in revenues comes directly from its users. Of course, many think they can win, and at times, they will. But eventually – the house always wins.
Oh no, you missed the live webinar! But, good news: Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone planning for a future child or family.
Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone looking to cut back on non-essential spending. My most-requested product is these monthly calendars to share on your Instagram story, use as a phone background, or print off to track your spending habits.
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