The lottery has been so ingrained into American culture, many don’t consider it gambling. But make no mistake about it, it is.
The dictionary definition of gambling is playing games of chance for money. Multi-state lotteries like Mega Millions and Powerball, the ones millions of Americans lined up to buy tickets for this week in hope of winning a record jackpot, are certainly games of chance. Plus, even at $1 or $2 a ticket, these games are played for real money.
They fit the dictionary definition of gambling to a tee.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying your luck for a buck or two with the opportunity to win $1.6 billion out there. There’s also nothing wrong with a tax-paying American adult using a portion of his or her disposable income to buy a few more tickets while chasing the big payday. It’s called responsible gambling, and it involves playing games of chance for money within your means.
Problem gambling is the opposite of that, where players chase losses, gamble with more money than they can afford to lose, and don’t know when to stop.
The highs and lows of gambling can be quite addictive, and problem gamblers tend to chase the endorphin rush gambling provides no matter what the consequences.
The lottery and problem gambling
Record multi-state lottery jackpots always cause quite a stir in this country. Players feverishly scurry to grab as many tickets as they can in hope of winning life-changing money. Problem gambling often goes undetected. After all, it’s just the lottery. It’s not like blowing your entire paycheck at the casino. Or, is it?
Manchester, New Hampshire ABC affiliate WMUR-TV ran a story this week quoting the New Hampshire Council on Problem Gambling saying the lottery actually ranks in the top three games linked to gambling addiction. Executive director Ed Talbot said record jackpots create a temptation many players have trouble avoiding:
“Especially when jackpots get this high, there’s the temptation to go a little bit extra. We recognize that most people can gamble responsibly. We advocate for the people who have a problem with gambling. We’ve had tremendous support from the gambling industry, but we want to caution people. The tagline a lot of us use is, ‘Bet with your head, not over your head.'”
Problem gambling prevention
Often mandated by state law to do so, casinos and lotteries work with local governments to do their part to try and curb problem gambling.
Popular initiatives include:
- Responsible-gambling social marketing campaigns and information centers
- Helplines providing real information about how games works, odds, and myths about gambling
- Clinical counseling
- Voluntary or self-exclusion programs
- Strict deposit limits for online lottery and online gambling sites
- Training programs for staff teaching how to spot a player with a problem
The programs are effective, but not completely. Preventing problem gambling requires the help of family, friends, or anyone who can provide a strong support system for someone with an issue. It takes a village.
It also takes information. Players need to be made well aware of the fact the odds of winning a Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350, and 1 in 292,201,338 for Powerball. Logic must prevail in the face of such impossible odds.
The difference between poker and problem gambling
When it comes to a game like poker, one that blends elements of skill and chance, the lines are a little blurrier.
In a 2016 PokerNews article, Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said it’s tough to see the difference between a professional poker player dedicated to his craft and a problem gambler:
“On a standard psychological diagnostic test, I think most professionals would meet every criteria to be considered a problem gambler. It’s just really hard to separate a heavy recreational gambler, or a pro, from someone who has a problem.
“I’ve given some standard tests to a few professional players, well-known pros, [World Series of Poker] bracelet winners. I can’t give you their names for privacy reasons, but I can say they all graded out as serious problem gamblers. My one takeaway, after talking with a lot of poker pros and poker companies over the years, is that the one difference, the thing that separates a professional from a problem gambler, is control.”
In other words, someone without a problem can set limits and stick to them. They practice good bankroll management and know when to step away from the game. A problem gambler can’t seem to stop and has difficulty managing both their time and money.
Spotting a problem gambler
It’s obviously much easier to spot a problem gambler who plays the lottery than one playing poker above and beyond their means.
However, Whyte said friends and family should handle both the same way:
“You do the same thing you would do if you thought that friend had a bad disease like cancer. You let them know you care and that help is available. If they’re still talking to you after that, you can refer them to an organization like ours.”
The National Council on Problem Gambling has a 24-hour confidential and toll-free helpline. It can be accessed through ncpgambling.org or at 1-800-522-4700.
Poker can be a lot of fun. When lottery fever sweeps the country and big Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots are on the line, the lottery should be too. Both just need to be played responsibly.