Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

If Gambling Is a Damaging Addiction, States Should Cease Lotteries

States run lotteries, offering winners multimillions, and then turning around and offering gambling rehab programs is a contradictory process.

Learning to gamble can start innocently early as children pass through arcades or other entertainment venues and approach machines that dangle prizes for taking a chance. Yes, this is gambling because the child must put money into the machine and then wait to see if a toy or other desirable item will drop into the slot, and they will receive a prize.

Prize is a word that should be set off in neon lights that flash in a child’s brain because that’s the allure these machines have, and that’s where a simple coin in a slot can grow a desire, ultimately ending in addiction.

A study showed that people in their early 20s gamble the most. Many kids start even younger than that. A 2018 poll of over 38,000 Canadian teens and young adults, paid for by the government of British Columbia, found that almost two-thirds (aged 12–18) had gambled or played games similar to gaming in the past year.

I had my first encounter with gambling on a large scale when I was attending a meeting in Las Vegas. Whenever we had to go to a meeting room, restaurant, or anywhere else in the hotel, we had to pass through the casino and right by the slot machines, where people sat for the entire day and put coins into the machines.

Going to breakfast, we found a gambling machine on our table, and if you went to a restroom, there was a gambling machine there, too. You couldn’t avoid them even if you wanted to, and I wanted to avoid them. The hotels are designed so that everyone must pass through the casino in order to get to any other part of the hotel. I don’t gamble and was rather surprised when I heard a friend say she loved to gamble.

As a psychologist, I know that several types of reinforcement can induce people to do something for a prize. We know these types as fixed interval, variable interval, variable ratio, and continuous reinforcement. The strongest pull is the variable ratio because the person never knows how often they have to do something before receiving a reward or prize.

Variable ratio is the most resistant to extinction and, therefore, the one most likely to cause a serious addiction, such as gambling. The couple I saw sitting at the slot machines kept pulling the lever (they each had three machines) and putting their money in to get that big jackpot because they never knew when it might come.

It was a pathetic sight. Yes, they occasionally received a small reward during their days at the slots to keep them going, believing that the big one was just another pull of the slot’s handle away. I had heard they had made money by selling a uranium mine, and now most of it was going into the slot machines.

Gambling and the Vulnerable

Based on data from the American Gaming Association from early 2023, sports betting is now allowed in 37 states plus Washington, DC. Six more states are thinking about passing similar laws. People can bet at any time, from anywhere, and more and more, at any age. This includes teens and even little kids who are not old enough to legally gamble.

As gaming has become easier for more people, psychologists and other experts are worried that more people will try it and that more of them will have problems with it. It is still too early to tell what the long-term effects will be, but there is more and more evidence that young people, especially boys and men, are more likely to become addicted to gambling. This is also the age group that most often engages in the newest types of gambling, like sports betting and gambling on video games.

There are agencies in the National Institutes of Health that deal with alcohol and drug abuse problems, but there are no official programs for gambling problems, and there are no government rules against ads for sports betting.

It is thought that 0.5% of adults in the United States have a gambling problem. Similar or slightly higher numbers have been found in other countries.

Most people who have problems with gambling also have at least one other mental diagnosis. Individuals who have issues with gaming are more likely to have problems with controlling their impulses, dealing with emotions, or feeling anxious.

The prevalence, prediction of certain groups and dangers increasingly seen in terms of gambling, would seem to mitigate some type of federal regulation, but that isn’t in effect. We have to wonder since gambling addiction is only going to increase as the advertising efforts blossom on all media platforms, what is the reason that an agency deemed to protect health has not acted?

The answer may lie in lobbying efforts, and the amount of money that is spent in states that benefit from encouraging gambling activities. Lotteries run by states, initially begun to support public education and regional funding of infrastructure, may have been diverted into other areas of use with public education not receiving what had been expected.

The time is now to rethink gambling and the addiction it can bring, just as we re-thought cigarettes and smoking, and it’s dangerousGambling addiction is here, it is increasing, and action must be considered.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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