Responsible Gambling in the United States

For most people, gambling is a fun activity that can result either in extra money or a slight loss. They log on to a site or visit their nearest casino, play for a bit and return to their lives. Unfortunately, there is a percentage of players for whom gambling becomes something darker.

According to the National Center for Responsible Gambling, about 1% of the adult US population has a severe gambling problem. Based upon the population of adults who gamble, that equates to roughly 2 million problem gamblers in America.

Of course, as the saying goes, no man is an island, and problem gamblers are no different. Meaning there are many millions more who are family members and friends who are negatively affected by problem gamblers in their orbits.

Responsible Gambling in the United States 1

The good news is that the road to recovery can begin for problem gamblers any time they like. Almost every state has its own responsible gambling resources, and there are some options on the national level, as well.

This page is designed to be a resource for problem gamblers and their loved ones who are ready to climb out of the hole. If you’re concerned that things are getting or have gotten out of hand for you or someone you love, you should be able to find help right away.

What does responsible gambling mean?

It’s important to understand what we mean when we talk about responsible gambling. Simply put, responsible gambling is a set of behaviors and initiatives that players and gambling providers use to make sure that play remains a purely social activity for players, rather than one with life-altering negative effects.

Responsible gambling as a philosophy is important to almost any person or group that deals with gambling. Lawmakers, law enforcement officials, casinos, regulators and players all have a vested interest in making sure that all players do not overextend themselves at the tables, slots or sportsbook.

So, as you’ll see, every single gambling outlet will have some type of responsible gambling program in place. The levels of service that you can find will vary, of course, but no legitimate gambling business wants to see customers falling into ruin via its products.

How can I gamble responsibly?

The unfortunate reality is that it’s impossible to know exactly who will be affected by gambling addiction. Even the most steadfast and strong-willed people have found themselves in dire straits before. However, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from falling into that trap:

  • Never gamble with money you cannot lose. At a basic level, the amount of time you spend gambling is rarely the problem for problem gamblers. The real issue is when you begin wagering money that you need for other things. Money earmarked for rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities, medical expenses, children or anything else that is a part of your normal life should never be on the betting table. It shouldn’t even be in your pocket when you go to gamble.
  • Set a loss limit. The idea of setting an absolute loss limit for yourself goes hand-in-hand with not gambling with necessary money. You can take all of your disposable income to the casino, sure, but you don’t have to do that, and you certainly don’t have to lose every dollar in your pocket before you leave.
  • Understand that you’re more likely to lose. Despite what you hear about various systems and strategies, almost every game in a casino is there to win money for the casino, not you. Even though it’s possible to be a consistent winner at poker or sports betting, most people are not. For the most part, the odds are not in your favor when you play in a casino. Accept the fact that you cannot win consistently before you go to play, and be pleasantly surprised if you do manage to win.
  • Gambling should be fun and entertaining, and you should leave if it’s not. Emotions get the best of all of us, and when money’s on the line, it’s not hard to get a bit heated. However, if the progress of your gambling is making you angry, sad or otherwise upset, stop playing. Walk away and play another day.

How do I know if I have a gambling problem?

Understanding whether your gambling is a problem is crucial. The frequency or amount that you play is not necessarily an indicator that something is wrong.

There are numerous responsible gambling resources online that can help you figure out if you’re going into dangerous territory. One of the most notable, the quiz at Gamblers Anonymous, asks you 20 yes/no questions about your mindset with regard to gambling. Anyone who answers “yes” to seven or more questions could credibly be concerned about their activities.

However, if you don’t want to go through the quiz and just want a simple approach, ask yourself the following question:

If you want to stop gambling, can you? 

Be honest with yourself. Think about the recent times when you’ve played. Were there moments when you thought you should leave but you didn’t? Did you miss a dinner date or put someone off for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour?

If your answer to the question in bold is anything but a “yes” without reservation, then there might be cause to worry. It doesn’t mean that you are addicted, per se. Only a qualified professional can make that diagnosis. However, it should be enough to give you pause and consider exploring the resources available to you.

Who do I contact if I think I may have a gambling problem?

It’s never fun when things get out of hand, and admitting that you may have a problem is often the first step toward recovery and a brighter future. If you do believe that you need some assistance, there is good news. Help is available in various forms, no matter where you live.

If you want to be able to connect with some assistance, there is one top flight agency that you need to know. The National Council on Problem Gambling has scads of resources for problem gamblers and their families in order to get in touch with therapy providers. The NCPG offers a 24-hour, confidential helpline at 1-800-522-4700. You can also send texts to that number, and there is a live chat function onsite, as well.

Peer support groups are another major resource for the afflicted. Both Gamblers Anonymous and GAM-ANON offer weekly support group meetings in every state. Gamblers Anonymous supports problem gamblers themselves, while GAM-ANON focuses on the families of the addicted.

In some cases, there are multiple meetings in each state’s largest metropolitan areas. These meetings will bring you together with others in recovery and provide you with community and support. There also are opportunities for virtual meetings for those for whom the physical meetings are not feasible.

Beyond the national organizations, many state health departments maintain their own resources to aid problem gamblers. Their levels of service vary, but each will have some ability to connect you with the appropriate therapists or groups. In some cases, as the result of state funds set aside for the programs, you may be able to receive therapy for free.

Problem gambling agencies by state

How self-exclusion works

One prong of responsible gambling requires the enforcement power of the state in order to work. Self-exclusion programs are ubiquitous in every state that has gambling of any kind.

The theory behind self-exclusion is pretty simple. Some problem gamblers are simply unable to stop and have to ban themselves from setting foot in a gambling facility, be it live or online.

Now, that may sound good in theory, but you may be wondering how it would actually stop a person from gambling. After all, addicts aren’t going to stop simply because they’re on a list — even if it’s a list upon which they put themselves.

As it turns out, placing yourself on the list makes it a crime for you to enter any gambling facility under the jurisdiction of the list. You can find yourself subject to arrest for criminal trespassing if you enter a casino or sportsbook while on a self-exclusion list, and you could find yourself with fines or a jail sentence.

The need for such harsh and rigid enforcement is why state authorities typically manage self-exclusion. However, regulators make sure to put their licensed properties on the line, too. A casino or sportsbook that does not take steps to bar self-excluded people can find itself subject to fines or sanctions.

Online sites have a bit easier time than their retail brethren in terms of enforcing self-exclusion. A simple ban on accounts associated with excluded people is usually enough, although gambling sites do have to stay on guard for new account applications.

Depending on where you live, you may have several options for the term you can place yourself on the list. You usually have to spend at least a year excluded before you can attempt to be reinstated. It is also possible to become listed on a permanent basis. Placement on the list is irreversible, so it is usually a measure of last resort.

One thing to bear in mind is the “self” aspect of the exclusion list. Only gamblers themselves can place themselves on the self-exclusion list — family members and friends cannot do it for them, no matter how much they would like to do so.

Self-exclusion is an extreme measure, to be sure. However, if you are unable to stop yourself from gambling, regardless of therapy or any other intervention, it may be the only way to protect yourself from yourself.

Role of the casino in responsible gambling

In addition to the self-exclusion enforcement role that they occupy, most casinos are bound by the terms of their licenses to provide information and education to the public about how to gamble responsibly.

It’s not enough for them to give lip service to responsible gambling, either. In many cases, state regulators will require operators to submit and abide by a responsible gambling plan as a condition of their license.

Those plans outline all the methods that operators will use to promote and enforce responsible gambling on their properties. There are many strategies and techniques that focus on various aspects of responsible gambling. Some are things that regulators require, but others are just good business practices.

Examples include:

  • Signage: Signs posted throughout the property educate customers about responsible gambling and/or available resources.
  • Employee training: The company must ensure that staff members know what the signs of problem gambling are and what to do if a customer exhibits them.
  • Advertising limits: Statements and targeted marketing materials are closely monitored to avoid potentially harmful admissions or placement, particularly with regard to minors
  • Betting, credit and deposit limits: It is not possible for a customer to access or bet with large amounts of cash beyond given limits without further verification. These restrictions are much more common online.
  • Alcohol limits: On top of their responsibilities that come with licenses to serve alcohol, casinos have added pressure to avoid allowing inebriated guests to bet.
  • Treatment programs: Many states will tax gambling providers or require them to contribute to a fund in support of problem gambling treatment programs.

The most important thing is that casinos and sportsbooks, both retail and online, demonstrate that they are proactive in their advocacy for responsible gambling. Aside from being required by law, it’s probably not good publicity if a property has a reputation of putting people on the street.

Problem gambling statistics

The exact numbers that underlie problem gambling are unknown. Many entities and organizations have conducted their research independently and come to their own conclusions. In general, the 1% figure for gambling addiction we cited above is the consensus, but again, that’s roughly 2 million people in pain, and that’s just those suffering from addiction themselves.

However, young people are at much greater risk of problem gambling than their older counterparts. Up to 9% of young gamblers may have a problem. Research also shows disproportionate problem gambling in racial and ethnic minority groups.

Furthermore, the 1% figure is just for people who have definite problems with addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that an additional 2 million to 4 million people have problems with gambling but are not quite meeting the definition of addicted.

There are plenty of studies on problem gambling out there, and plenty of statistics. With sports betting and online gambling expanding across the country, there will certainly be more. Here are some of the top studies:

Responsible gambling summary

Problem gambling is exactly that — a problem. Estimated millions of sufferers lose money to casinos that would have gone for the necessities of life. In many cases, the addicts are not the only ones affected — college funds, savings and funds that others need go down the drain, never to return.

If you are concerned that you or someone you love may have a problem, do not wait to get help. Counseling is available 24 hours a day, and every dollar you save is a step in the right direction. It’s not going to get better on its own, so make it a priority to reach out today.

Bart Shirley Avatar
Written by

Bart Shirley

Bart Shirley is a writer and poker player from Houston, Texas. When he’s not teaching high school math and business, Bart writes about the NJ online casino industry and US online poker. He has a master’s degree in business administration from Texas Christian University and a degree in English from Texas A&M.

View all posts by Bart Shirley