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Work & Money

Shocking Truths About Problem Gambling That Black Women Need to Know

From corner-store scratch tickets to casino bus charters, from team raffles to mobile apps, temptation is everywhere. The deck is stacked against us. Here’s what we can do about it.

Gladys Knight. Ben Affleck. Michael Jordan. What do these celebrities have in common?

Besides fame and fortune, each of these high-profile individuals has struggled with gambling.

In Knight’s case, the music legend admitted in her autobiography, Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story, to being hooked on sports betting and baccarat for nearly 10 years.

And Knight, 78, isn’t alone.

Gambling is among the most common impulse control disorders in the world. In the United States, an estimated 4 to 6 million people wrestle with a mild or moderate gambling problem, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Another 2 million struggle with full-blown addiction. Due to widespread socioeconomic inequalities, Black Americans are among those most likely to experience gambling problems.

But gambling addiction can affect anyone regardless of race, age, gender or socioeconomic status. In many cases, what starts as a fun diversion or an act of financial necessity evolves into an unhealthy obsession that can strain relationships, interfere with work or lead to serious financial and legal troubles.

Other participants were concerned that casinos opening in their neighborhoods would bring crime, gentrification and weakened community ties.

In fact, in Massachusetts, researchers investigating the impacts of gambling on the Black community organized a focus group that elicited some comments that were as troubling as they were revealing. One woman knew of seniors on a fixed income who exhausted their monthly benefits on gambling and resorted to eating dog food for the rest of the month. Other participants were concerned that casinos opening in their neighborhoods would bring crime, gentrification and weakened community ties. Commenters also described their experiences in casinos as captivating due to dazzling lights, thrilling sound effects, free drinks and no clocks or windows. They also used phrases such as “a setup,” “a trap,” “demonic,” “a ploy” and even “a classic plantation scenario.”

Even if you don’t personally gamble or have a gambling problem, someone you love could be in trouble. When that person is your spouse, unfortunately, you could be on the hook for your partner’s debts. Fortunately, if you or someone you know struggles with gambling addiction, there are many resources available.

What Is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling involves risking something in the hopes of winning something more valuable. For some, that can be throwing a dime into a slot machine; for others, it’s betting at the racetrack or on the outcome of a game. None of that is typically harmful.

Commenters also described their experiences in casinos as captivating due to dazzling lights, thrilling sound effects, free drinks and no clocks or windows. They also used phrases such as ‘a setup,’ ‘a trap,’ ‘demonic,’ ‘a ploy’ and even ‘a classic plantation scenario.’

But gambling addiction (also called compulsive gambling, problem gambling or gambling disorder) develops when gambling goes beyond the game. It occurs when an initial urge to chase the thrill becomes a need to continue betting, more frequently and with bigger wagers — despite the negative impacts on your life.

Why Is Gambling Addictive?

For compulsive gamblers, the act of gambling stimulates the brain much like drugs and alcohol do. In fact, gambling and the thrill it can bring triggers dopamine release in the brain. The more you gamble, the more dopamine you unleash, and the more you need to chase the “high.”

Eventually, just as those with substance abuse disorders need more drugs, gambling addicts need to pursue riskier bets to feel the same rush.

Everywhere you can buy milk, you can buy a lottery ticket. Despite the extremely long odds of winning the next Powerball or Lotto jackpot, people still get tempted into playing, especially during tough economic times.

Additionally, gambling has become normalized and increasingly woven into so many aspects of society in recent years.

Everywhere you can buy milk, you can buy a lottery ticket. Despite the extremely long odds of winning the next Powerball or Lotto jackpot, people still get tempted into playing, especially during tough economic times.

Gambling is elsewhere too. Civic organizations approach us with raffles or tricky trays. Online sports betting surged during the pandemic and shows no sign of stopping.. And with just a few clicks of your smartphone, you can bet on almost anything, from the weather to celebrity deaths to the comings and goings of the royal family.

The result: Gambling addiction is on the rise and expected only to continue.

Risk Factors for Developing Gambling Addiction


Studies suggest that young Black men are at the highest risk of developing gambling disorders due to a complex web of socioeconomic factors.

Gambling problems can also be triggered by stressful life events, including job troubles or loss, loneliness and even retirement.

Others at risk of developing gambling addiction include those with mental health diagnoses like depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD and bipolar disorder; people who spend time around compulsive gamblers; and individuals who’ve experienced trauma or social/economic inequality.

Gambling problems can also be triggered by stressful life events, including job troubles or loss, loneliness and even retirement.

Signs and Symptoms of Problem Gambling


Because it’s an addiction, compulsive gamblers find themselves unable to stop when their losses mount and the thrills fade. They may exhibit common addiction symptoms, such as hiding or lying about problematic spending and betting behaviors, depleting savings or going into debt, and committing theft or fraud to fund gambling habits.

Needless to say, such actions can jeopardize relationships, jobs or educational opportunities, especially if you or a loved one is constantly turning to family and friends to get bailed out of financial or legal jams.

What often started as scratch-ticket or slot-machine fun led to snowballing losses — and a slippery slope to shame, severed family ties, even suicide.

But problem gambling doesn’t just affect individuals; communities are impacted too.

Whether directly or indirectly, problem gambling is linked to increases in financial crimes, divorce, bankruptcy and suicide.

Help for Gambling Addiction


It’s an unfortunate fact that Black people are twice as likely to experience disordered gambling as our white counterparts, while Black youth are much more likely to engage in “heavy” gambling than their peers.

However, if you or someone you know struggles with gambling addiction, you’re not alone — and help is available.

Generally, gambling addiction is treated with one or more therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy and family therapy. These sessions can help individuals recognize how gambling harms their lives and those around them. Therapy can also give compulsive gamblers control over their urges and behaviors.

If you or someone you love struggles with problem gambling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Therapy can also give compulsive gamblers control over their urges and behaviors.

You can call, text or chat with the National Problem Gambling Helpline or use the National Council on Problem Gambling to find resources in your area.

Also, the National Suicide Prevention Line and National Drug Helpline are available for those who struggle with suicidal ideation or substance abuse issues.

Gambling addiction can be devastating for all those affected. But by understanding the condition and taking advantage of available resources, recovery from problem gambling can be win-win, no risk involved.

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