Clearing Up 3 Common Misconceptions About Problem Gambling

Written By Ken Pomponio on 03/25/2022
Problem gambling misconceptions 032522

“Awareness + Action.”

That’s the National Council on Problem Gambling’s March theme for National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

The NCPG defines problem gambling as “all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or behavioral pursuits.”

And, according to the NCPG, an estimated 2 million U.S. adults (1 percent of the population) meet the criteria for “severe” problem gambling. Another 4-6 million adults, meanwhile, meet the criteria for “mild or moderate” problem gambling.

So how can someone gauge if they — or someone they know — should be counted among that gambling addiction subset of approximately 7 million?

Here, according to the NCPG, is a list of the most common signs/symptoms of problem gambling:

  • Increasing preoccupation with gambling
  • A need to bet more money more frequently 
  • “Chasing” lost money by betting even more
  • Feelings of restlessness or irritability when trying to stop gambling
  • Loss of control “manifested by the continuation of gambling in spite of mounting serious negative consequences”

So there’s a small snapshot of problem gambling.

But with the state’s own Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado currently fighting an increasingly uphill battle, we here at PlayColorado also wanted to examine the other side of the coin:

What are some of the most common current misconceptions about gambling addiction and its treatment?

Keith Whyte, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based NCPG, said he was glad we asked. 

Whyte has been in his current NCPG role since 1998. He previously served the research director for the American Gaming Association.

In short, Whyte knows the ins and outs of problem gambling. He knows what it is — and what it is not.

And he’s certainly come across an abundance of misconceptions about the issue.

Here are Whyte’s thoughts on three of the most common current problem gambling fallacies:

Misconception No. 1: 

“If a state has little or no legalized gambling, they don’t have — and don’t have to deal with gambling problems.”

“Our 2018 national survey found 50 percent of residents in Utah and Hawaii gambled in the past year,” White said in an e-mail response to PlayColorado. “(That’s) not significantly lower than many other states with much more legalized gambling.

“The baseline rate of gambling addiction (2.2% of adults/past year) seems to be pretty consistent across states, too.”

Misconception No. 2: 

“Gambling addiction is different than drug or alcohol addiction since there is no substance involved.”

“We actually have a lot of research on the neurobiology of gambling addiction from brain imaging studies and neurochemical tests,” White wrote. “These have revealed commonalities in the way that gambling and drugs of abuse act on the brain, and the way the brains of addicts respond to such cues.

“The evidence indicates that gambling activates the brain’s reward system in much the same way that a drug does.”

Misconception No. 3: 

“If you build it they will come.” 

“Politicians seem to assume once they — grudgingly — put a few more tax dollars towards PG treatment, the problem is solved,” Whyte said. “But states and insurance companies and every segment of the health system have spent decades slamming the door in faces of people with gambling problems who turn to them for help.

“So it is going to take a lot of time for states to build a comprehensive system of care for people with gambling problems and a lot of time for people with gambling problems to build trust in it.”

If you believe you or someone you know has an issue with problem gambling, call the PGCC/NCPG 24/7 helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

The NCPG can also be reached via the help chat at ncpgambling.org/chat or by texting 1-800-522-4700.

Additional assistance is available via an online peer support forum at www.gamtalk.org.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Ken Pomponio

Ken is a fourth-generation Coloradan and career sports journalist with more than 30 years covering the gamut from the preps to the pros. A lifelong Front Range resident and son of 1960s Denver Broncos season-ticket holders, he is a long-time sports betting enthusiast whose insight and passion shine through in his coverage at PlayColorado.

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