What is Compulsive Gambling?

Compulsive gambling, also called gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs such as alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you’re prone to compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.

Compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives.

Gambling Disorder is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an addiction.

Who is a Compulsive Gambler?

The compulsive gambler can be a male or female of any age, race, income or religion. He or she may gamble on dog races, card games, slots and dice, sports events, lotteries, bingo, the stock market, or any situation which provides the gambler with “action.”

Are You A Compulsive Gambler?

If you answer “yes” to at least seven of the following questions, you may want to seek consultation about a gambling problem.

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, or loneliness?
16. Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance your gambling?
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

Reprinted with Permission from Gamblers Anonymous

Why Should We Care?

Five to seven percent of Wisconsin’s population (268,000 to 375,000 residents) are problem/compulsive gamblers. Not only does compulsive gambling shatter the lives of men, women and their families, it results in economic loss to society. There is hope for recovery. Compulsive gambling can be diagnosed and is a treatable illness. It is called the “hidden illness” since there is no breath odor nor stumbling of steps or speech. Nonetheless, it is as debilitating as alcohol or drug addiction.

Senior Citizens And Gambling

Lottery tickets, bingo, mail-order sweepstakes, slot machines…Gambling…a little entertainment, harmless fun……

For many, gambling is a fun activity, but for those who become addicted to gambling, it is a devastating disease. Problem Gambling is a hidden illness and it is even more so for the older adult. Compulsive Gambling is a progressive disorder causing a psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. Individuals eventually lose the ability to control the impulse to gamble. This results in excessive gambling which can compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or employment pursuits. It is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an Impulse Control Disorder. An estimated 5-7% of the population suffers from gambling problems.

Although there has been no National or State study done yet on gambling among older adults, gambling Helpline counselors throughout our nation report that gambling by senior citizens is on the rise. In the past, gambling declined with age, but now more seniors are able to gamble as the availability of gambling increases.

Legalized gambling has expanded dramatically in recent years. Corner quick-stop stations and grocery stores sell lottery tickets. Casinos run specials with senior citizen discount coupons. Bus trips are often free or at low cost and vouchers to gamble are supplied by the company sponsoring the bus trip. Church raffles and bingo help raise much -needed funding for church and school programs. Magazine sweepstakes received in the mail offer the chance to be a millionaire.

Older adults gamble for a variety of reasons. At a time when there is often not a lot of excitement in an older person’s life, gambling allows a person to take some risk. Seniors may be lonely or bored after the loss of a spouse or retirement. They may be looking for a way to compensate for a limited retirement income or just looking to be with peers as a social outlet.

For whatever reason seniors choose to gamble, many have never gambled before or if they have, only in a limited way, and most are totally unaware of any potential for adverse consequences. Therefore, when they begin to encounter problems, they are often confused about their own behavior and are embarrassed that they cannot control the activity. They are reluctant to go for help because they think at their age they should know better. They are most often unaware of what pathological gambling is and have no idea there is help available or where to get it.

Some older adults are gambling more than they should. They are gambling funds needed for food and in some cases, medication. Some are gambling away retirements, homes and sometimes even their lives. When approached by adult children or friends, they are often reluctant to discuss the problem and resent the intrusion with an attitude of It’s my money, I will spend it any way I want.”

A gambling problem may remain invisible until the gambler’s life starts to fall apart. Symptoms of senior problem gambling may include: changes in normal communication with family members, frequent unexplained absences, repeatedly borrowing money, paying bills late, frequent illness due to failure to buy needed mediation, personality changes, neglecting finances and health, avoids talking about or denies gambling.

Although compulsive gambling is a serious addiction and very often can ruin people financially and emotionally, there is help available. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, contact the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-426-2535. The Helpline is answered 24-hours a day.

For more topics that interest the older adult, go to the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups.

You Can Make A Difference

Help us with our mission

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem contact the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling at 1-800-GAMBLE5 or

Your donation will assist us with these needs:

  • Helpline information service
  • Professional training
  • Prevention programming
  • Advertising WCPG services
  • Public education
  • Informational packets
  • Policy makers education
  • Student education programs

Your membership donation will provide much needed revenue for the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling.

The 24-hour Helpline provides information and referrals for gamblers, family members and concerned friends or employers of gamblers who have difficulties because of their gambling. WCPG has created a statewide, database of qualified treatment providers, Gamblers Anonymous and GamAnon chapters to which callers can be referred. Written information on Compulsive gambling can also be sent on request.

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Would you like an informational packet sent to you? Please email your name and address to

Concerned About Yourself or a Loved One?

Speak with one of our gambling addiction experts.