Important information for all gamblers

Sports gambling is often compared to the stock market. The risks, the potential rewards, the tips, the 'sure winners' — there are many similarities. Like the stock market, there is a get-rich-quick myth associated with sports betting, and the reality rarely matches up.

For virtually all sports gamblers, as for virtually all stock market speculators, financial gains are small, slow, and long term. Sports gambling is a high-risk activity, and is not for everyone. Painstaking research and careful planning can — and often do — mean nothing in the face of a streak of simple bad luck. The gains and losses, ups and downs of gambling are simply a fact of life, and those downs have to be dealt with.

Many people gamble regularly as a hobby, or even as a career, without difficulty. By controlling both the amount of money and the amount of time they spend at it, they keep their gambling activities from affecting other areas of their life. It's not that they aren't looking for the big win — it's that they know how to avoid the big loss. They don't make a bet they can't afford to lose.

Others, however, find that the rush and pleasure they get from gambling makes it hard to know when to stop. They find they are often betting more than they should, and they start to rely on a future 'big win' to make up for present losses.

When this behavior becomes a pattern that continues for any length of time, that person is at serious risk of being or becoming a compulsive gambler.

A compulsive gambler is a person whose gambling has caused growing and continuing problems in any aspect of his or her life. Some of the warning signals include:

  • An inability to stop gambling, whether winning or losing
  • Constant vows to abstain
  • Impatience with loved ones
  • Fantasies of 'this week's win' to overcome 'last week's loss'
  • Neglecting responsibilities to concentrate on gambling
  • Wide mood swings
  • Lack of interest in social situations

It can be easy for people to get swept up in the excitement and suspense of sports gambling — that's a large part of its attraction. What's vital, though, is to step back from time to time and take a clear-eyed look at what you're doing and where you stand. Monitor your own behavior as objectively as possible. Better yet, ask a loved one for their input. One of the hallmarks of addiction is denial of the problem — so defensiveness when confronted about it can be a danger sign. If someone is telling you that you have a gambling problem, chances are you probably do.

Don't think you do? Prove it. Take a piece of paper and write it all down for them: what you've spent, what you've won, what you've lost — and how you've budgeted for what you've lost. Be honest with them — and brutally honest with yourself. Is the time or money you are spending on gambling taking away from other areas of your life? Do you feel that you can't stop until you make up your losses? Are you saying things like, "I can stop anytime, I just have to _____ first"? If any of these things are happening, it's time to take control.

If you are in control of your gambling, the 'prove it' test should show it. Yeah, yeah, it's boring being so responsible, we know — but hey, you're a grown-up.

Suffering from a gambling problem or addiction is nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are simply more vulnerable to addictive behavior than others, in the same way that some people are prone to depression. In fact, recognizing that you have a problem and taking steps to deal with are things to be proud of.

If you think you're showing signs of being or becoming a compulsive gambler, you should speak to your family doctor or a community health organization as soon as possible. They can help you find the help you need. If you prefer, another very good idea is to contact your local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous. If you don't know where the nearest chapter is, check their Web page: Gamblers Anonymous.

Remember: You can't win if you're not in control.