How to Prevent a Gambling Addiction

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

Over the last few years working in problem gambling prevention, I’ve come to see the importance of stopping a problem before it starts.

Preventing a gambling addiction saves a great deal of money, time, and effort in the long run. Although there are huge benefits to prevention, it is one of the most neglected aspects of addiction.

A quick google search on how to prevent a gambling addiction will show you that all of the other articles on this topic focus on treatment and quitting.

Focusing solely on treatment and neglecting prevention is like trying to fix an overflowing sink by mopping up the floor. If you had only focused on preventing the problem in the first place, you might not be in this mess.

How do you prevent a gambling addiction?

  1. Set a money limit before gambling
  2. Set a time limit on your gambling
  3. Play for entertainment rather than making money
  4. Understand how the games work.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means, in terms of gambling in a casino environment.

Set a Money Limit

Bring a set amount of cash and leave cards at home.

Leaving your cards at home and bringing a set amount of cash to budget for you gambling is effective because it prevents you from spending more than you initially intended.

Leaving your cards at home also prevents you from making frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw cash, saving you on ATM fees.

How do you set your budget?

Consider the value of gambling as a form of entertainment. This will be different for everyone. How much would you normally spend on a night out for entertainment?

Whatever budget you decide on, expect to spend the full amount.

Why expect to spend the full amount?

First off, because it is the most likely scenario when gambling against a casino that has a built-in advantage over the player.

Also, the psychology of expecting to spend your full budget keeps you from a sense of disappointment and the temptation to try to win back the money you spent by gambling more.

Set an upper limit.

Ever find yourself ahead, just to put the money back in and spend it all?

This is a more advanced form of budgeting that might be helpful if you find yourself ahead and want to be able to walk away.

Setting an upper limit means setting a number you would be happy to leave with if you find yourself ahead.

For example, if you set an upper limit of $20 and you find yourself $30 ahead, you could continue to play, stopping when you are down to $20 ahead.

By setting an upper limit, you increase the odds that you will stop while you are ahead.

Although it is still helpful to maintain the mindset that you will be spending your full budget, sometimes it is nice to have clear boundaries of when you would like to walk away when you are ahead.

Use a Separate Wallet.

This is a useful strategy, especially if you’ve recently come out ahead. Using a separate wallet for your gambling cash separates the extra money you are able to spend on gambling from your everyday budget.

Having this “fun money” wallet also helps you keep track of when you are in a surplus. This way, your gambling budget can sometimes be completely independent of your regular entertainment budget.

Set a Time Limit

Plan your visit beforehand.

Gambling is different than going to a movie or a restaurant because it does not have a built-in time-frame. If the venue is open 24 hours and you have access to enough cash, you can technically continue playing indefinitely.

Before going to the venue, have a specific time-frame in mind,

Set an alarm as a reminder.

It is very easy to lose track of time in a casino. They are often designed to be disorienting, lacking natural lighting and clocks.

Since it is so easy to lose track of time, it could be useful to set a reminder on your phone of the time you intend on leaving. That way, you can focus on the entertainment, but also know when you intended on leaving.

Consider how often you would like to gamble.

Besides the amount of time spent during each visit, it is also important to consider your gambling frequency. Is this an activity you would prefer to relegate to weekends? Special occasions? Or a set number of days per week?

Play For Entertainment

Expect to spend all of the money you bring.

When gambling, expect to spend all of the money you have budgeted for the activity. It is the most likely scenario in the long run because the casino has an advantage in every game.

This is a useful frame of mind when gambling because it keeps you in the mindset that gambling is a form of entertainment. Therefore, when you spend your full budget, you are less likely to be disappointed and try to win back your money by gambling more.

If you come out ahead, it is a bonus. Even breaking even when gambling is still beating the odds.

Keeping your expectations in check keeps gambling an entertainment activity.

Don’t chase your losses.

This is one of the biggest risk factors for going beyond your gambling budget.

It may be tempting to keep playing to earn back the money you had already spent, but the casino always has the advantage in the long run. The longer you chase your losses, the more likely you will continue spending.

Realize when it is not fun anymore.

Like any other form of entertainment, gambling can be fun in moderation when you feel a sense of control over the activity.

When you begin to lose a sense of control over gambling and find yourself trying to win money back, it can be extremely frustrating. It is not uncommon for players to physically assault slot machines.

Someone actually told me today they prefer when they don’t have any money because they don’t have to worry about gambling.

Instead of a form of entertainment, gambling can take over someone’s life, not allowing them to focus on other things that are important to them. Keeping a close watch on whether this is still a form of entertainment may be helpful

Understand How the Games Work

It’s always random.

It is a common myth that there are hot or cold slot machines. All of the games in casinos need to have random outcomes. Therefore, anything you do to gain an advantage over the casino will not work. This includes trying to track the previous results or waiting for someone to leave a slot machine that hasn’t paid out in a while.

Fun Fact: on slot machines, the outcome is determined by a computer chip called a Random Number Generator (RNG) that is constantly running, even when no one is playing the machine!

The house always wins.

Although the outcome is random on every game, the casino doesn’t pay you the amount of money you should get for the odds of a winning outcome. Put simply, casinos often have a five to ten percent advantage over the player, depending on the game.

Since the casino has this built-in advantage, the longer you play, the more you are likely to spend, even if you find yourself ahead in the short-term.

Understand the game you are playing.

It is important to understand the game you are playing so you can feel in control of your bets. Although you can’t control the outcome, you can control exactly how much you bet.

Although slot machines are simple to bet on, they can be deceiving. Although you may be playing a penny machine, you will not be betting a penny per spin. These machines allow you to bet on multiple lines, often resulting in a max bet over $5 per spin.

If you don’t realize you are betting more than you intended, you may be disappointed when you run out of money within a few short minutes. It can then be tempting to take out more money to prolong your gambling.

Be aware of how the games work and make sure you are clear about the amount you are wagering on each bet. That way, you can may sure your budget will cover the entirety of your intended gambling session.

Conclusion

Preventing a gambling addiction before it starts requires setting a money limit, setting a time limit, playing for entertainment, and understanding how the games work.

Although these lessons are most relevant to gambling in a casino environment, many of the same rules still apply with any other form of gambling, whether it is online, lottery or sports betting.

Gambling is a form of entertainment that can turn into an addiction when it starts to have a harmful impact on someone’s life.

Like drugs or alcohol, gambling is often used as a way to cope with life stress. It can be used to escape boredom, loneliness, grief, or anxiety.

If you do have concerns about your gambling and are looking for help, you can contact your local problem gambling helpline for information on where to find local resources.

If you are in the U.S., a gambling helpline listing can be found here.

If you are in Canada, a gambling helpline listing can be found here.

Want to explore more ideas?

Check out my podcast where we explore various concepts that help explain today’s world.

Counselling Resources

I offer virtual addiction counselling for clients located in Canada. If you are interested in connecting for a free consultation, feel free to reach out to me here

If you are outside of Canada, here are a few options worth checking out:

BetterHelp.com is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

It’s almost like having a counselor in your pocket, since you can text, voice-message, or set up video calls whenever you need support. 

For persons struggling with anxious thoughts, depressed moods, low self-esteem, low motivation, or loneliness, check out Better Help here.

Online-therapy.com also offers support for persons looking to optimize their mental toolbox. Click here to learn more about their program based on the evidence-based practice of Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT).

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help and Online-therapy.com, I may receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

If you are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here. Although prices are generally higher on this directory, many of the practitioners accept insurance. 

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.


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11 Comments

  1. Dwordslayer

    Good info, and points to note. Not a gambler , work too hard to blow it away!

    Reply
    • Steve Rose

      Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Kirk

    Great article with very simple, straight to the point, helpful tips!

    Reply
    • Steve Rose

      Thanks Kirk!

      Reply
  3. Reji Koduvath

    All methodology recommended are good – especially for new gamblers. All those addicted to gambling need to go for psychological counseling.

    Reply
    • Steve Rose

      Thanks Reji! Exactly. Working in both prevention and treatment, I for sure see both ends of it.

      Reply
    • Steve Rose

      Thank you!

      Reply
  4. Eliza

    Also, be emotionally healthy and connect to others so that you don’t need to isolate or the security or love of gambling.

    Reply
    • Steve Rose

      Exactly! Since the central theme in my articles is the power of social ties, I couldn’t agree more!

      Reply
      • Eliza

        I’d have to check out the rest of your articles and see…
        Love, light and glitter

        Reply

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