Gambling: Fun or problem?

What is gambling? The NC Problem Gambling Program Website states that, “Gambling — or ‘betting’ or ‘gaming’ — is any behavior that involves the risking of money or valuables on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event. This event or game may be in part or totally dependent upon chance.” Gamblers Anonymous defines gambling as: “Betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or skill.”

Examples of gambling include the obvious: lottery tickets, scratch off tickets, casino gaming and card games like poker. Less obvious but also included are bingo games, raffle tickets and even the stock market.

America has a fluctuating relationship with gambling. In our earliest history as a Colonial Colony lotteries were used to bring in revenue for the government. Later, gambling was outlawed and frowned upon as a moral vice. Today, attitudes towards gambling are changing and it is again becoming widespread as entertainment and as source of revenue for the U.S. government and also many native tribes. In 2016 $8.85 billion was collected for state and local taxes related to gambling. The American Gaming Association says that gambling is currently a $240 billion industry employing 1.7 million people in 40 states.

Clearly, gambling is big business, but is it ever “more than a game?” For most people, gambling is something done for fun and recreation. One might buy a Powerball ticket, play some Bingo, bet on a sporting event, or play video lottery. The facts are that the majority of North Carolinians gamble with little or no adverse consequences; they are commonly considered “social gamblers.” But for some, gambling becomes a problem — and for some, uncontrollable. Disordered gambling destroys families, friendships, finances and hopes, and for some, even life itself.

The following are warning aigns of problem gambling:

— Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?

— Have you ever lied to people important to you about how much you gambled?

— Have you repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling?

— Have you ever relied on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling?

— Do you gamble as a way of escaping emotional or physical pain?

— Have you ever jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job or career opportunity because of gambling?

— Have you gambled to get money with which to pay debts or to solve other financial problems?

— Have you borrowed money to finance your gambling?

— Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

— Do you gamble to try to get your money back?

The good news is that there is help available for problem gamblers. Mental health professionals who are skilled in treating addictions are able to treat problem gambling as the addiction that it is. Part of the money collected in the N.C. Lottery is used to fund this treatment. Through this fund, free treatment is available for both the problem gamblers and their families. The services can be accessed by contacting the NC Problem Gambling Helpline at 877-718-5543 or

Gamblers Anonymous, which can be reached at 888-846-4426, is a 12-step self-help support group that promotes

gambling abstinence and Gam-Anon, which can be reached at 800-552-0170 or 704-552-4633, is a self-help support group for the families of problem gamblers. Recovery Assistance Program is a weekly support group which utilizes the Smart Recovery Model ( If you or someone you know has quit playing the game and started being played by it, then please access the help that is available to you.

Mary Neil C. Thompson is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified counselor with Scotland Family Counseling Center in Laurinburg.

Mary Neil C. Thompson is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified counselor with Scotland Family Counseling Center in Laurinburg.