Whether you are an online poker player or enjoy other legal gambling, it is important always to practice responsible gambling whenever you risk your money.
Gambling can be great fun and provide a lot of entertainment, but you have to use moderation and observe limits in order to gamble responsibly. Most of all, you need to be aware of potential signs of problem gambling to keep gambling from having a negative impact on yourself or on those you care about.
Here at USPoker, we want our readers to know where to play poker legally in the US, both in person and online. We also want your experience playing poker and engaging in other forms of gambling to be positive, which means always practicing responsible gambling.
Read on for advice about gambling responsibly and some tips for preventing problem gambling. Also included are links to resources to help you learn more about how to be smart when you gamble and where to go if you need help.
Poker is a Skill game, but it is also Gambling
In the 1998 film Rounders, main character Mike McDermott has an argument with his girlfriend about his poker playing, which she regards negatively as gambling. “Why does this still seem like gambling to you?” Mike asks her. “It’s a skill game,” he insists.
Mike is right to say poker involves skill, but he’s wrong to suggest it is not gambling. Poker has a significant chance element that makes the game fun but also increases players’ risk. As most poker players know, you can play a hand perfectly and lose, and you can also play a hand badly but get lucky and win.
A big part of practicing responsible gambling is understanding the nature of the risks involved. Whenever you sit down at a poker table, play a slot machine, bet on a football game, or purchase a lottery ticket, you are willingly accepting the risk of losing the money you wager while hoping for a reward of winning more money and profiting from the exchange.
Many poker players approach the game like Mike from Rounders, studying odds and probabilities, paying attention to opponents’ tendencies, and constantly gathering more information to help themselves become better players. But since poker is both a skill game and gambling, being informed about responsible gambling and aware of the signs of problem gambling will have a lot to do with how you’ll fare at the tables, too.
What is Responsible Gambling?
The term “responsible gambling” actually has particular significance in the gambling industry. It represents a concept, sometimes abbreviated as “RG,” that refers both to gamblers being responsible with their wagering and gambling providers being responsible in the way they present their games to players.
Legal and licenced online poker sites, for example, all have to follow “RG” practices as part of the regulations they have to abide by to offer the games. Those practices include being clear with customers about the rules and costs (e.g., cash game rake, tournament fees) associated with the games. They also include promoting responsible gambling by informing players how to play responsibly, giving them tools to limit their play, and not encouraging unsafe gambling.
On the players’ side, there are many ways to ensure you are gambling responsibly. Poker players are often great at keeping track of their results. Knowing how much you win or lose and how much time you spend playing can help you stick to limits and be smart with your gambling. There are other ways, too, you can work to ensure you are practicing responsible gambling every time you play.
Responsible Gambling Tips for Players
The following tips apply both to poker players and to anyone who gambles for real money:
- Always study the rules and/or odds and payouts involved in any gambling game before placing any wagers.
- Keep track of how much you spend when you gamble, including recording all of your wins and losses.
- Impose limits on how much you wager and also how much time you spend gambling.
- Never bet with money you need for other essential purposes such as your rent or mortgage, food, gas, monthly bills, and other necessities.
- Don’t gamble on credit or with borrowed money.
- Stay away from gambling whenever you are tired, stressed, anxious, or otherwise not in a clear-headed state.
- Avoid gambling when intoxicated.
- Don’t allow emotions to dictate when or how you gamble. Don’t “ride the rush” when you win and bet recklessly afterward. When you lose, don’t chase losses and similarly make foolish bets to try to get back to even.
Even if you feel like you are a responsible gambler, take a moment and read back over that list and ask yourself if you follow each of these recommendations whenever you gamble.
Responsible Gambling Tips for Gambling Providers
When it comes to gambling providers, there are also many best practices they can follow to promote responsible gambling and protect their players. You’ll find that licensed retail casinos and online gambling sites all must follow these and other guidelines to remain in operation:
- Post odds and payouts clearly and provide all needed information to players so they know their chances of winning and losing. Don’t mislead bettors about their chances with deceptive advertising (e.g., promoting a “risk-free” betting opportunity that actually is not without risk).
- Be clear about bonuses or promotions, including concerning any wagering requirements that must be fulfilled before a bonus can be rewarded.
- Never promote gambling in ways that treat problem gambling unseriously. For example, don’t encourage “degenerate” gambling or reckless betting in advertisements or on social media.
- Enforce rules to prevent illegal or underage gambling.
- Track players’ betting patterns to look for signs of problem gambling and take action when needed by imposing limits or refusing to accept future bets.
- Make sure staff is appropriately trained to recognize signs of problem gambling and prevent it when possible (e.g., at retail casinos, not allowing drunk patrons to gamble).
- Enable players to self-impose limits on their spending and/or time gambling, and also allow them to self-exclude either for a period of time or permanently.
- Give players information about responsible gambling and connect them with resources for preventing and treating problem gambling.
One factor worth considering when deciding whether to sign up for an account at an online poker site is to look into how well the site promotes and encourages responsible gambling. Usually, a site that is conscientious about “RG” will also act similarly when it comes to other aspects of the player’s experience on the site.
What is Problem Gambling?
Problem gambling can be difficult to define, since gambling-related behavior that might be problematic for one person may not be for another. Also, as with other forms of addiction and self-destructive behavior, those who suffer from problem gambling often try hiding that fact from others. Thus, even those closest to a problem gambler may not suspect what is happening.
Simply put, problem gambling occurs whenever gambling creates negative consequences, even small ones, whether or not anyone notices it. What might seem like minor instances of problem gambling can easily build into larger, more troublesome issues and concerns.
That makes it imperative for gamblers to remain aware of the signs of problem gambling and actively work to prevent it from snowballing toward grievous outcomes like the loss of personal savings, the creation of insurmountable debt, irreparable damage to relationships, and even harm to one’s physical and mental health.
If you are someone who enjoys gambling or if someone you care about does, make yourself aware of the following signs of problem gambling and be ready to act when they appear:
- Constantly thinking about gambling and being preoccupied with placing the next bet
- Increasing bet sizes or the amount of time spent gambling
- Repeatedly trying and failing to cut down one’s gambling, or feeling guilt about gambling
- Feeling restless or irritable when not able to gamble
- Lying to others about gambling, including hiding it from friends and family
- Borrowing money with which to gamble, or surprisingly selling off possessions or making unexpected bank withdrawals
- Being late or missing payments for bills
- Neglecting responsibilities or missing school, work, or other obligations
- Becoming withdrawn and not engaging in social activities or non-gambling hobbies
- Experiencing mood swings when gambling (euphoric highs after winning, devastating lows after losing)
- Not paying attention to personal hygiene or health
- Using gambling as a means to escape from other problems or stressors
These are signs you can look out for both in yourself and others who gamble. Even just one or two of them might warrant a closer look and even action to prevent what might be a small problem from becoming something much more dangerous and potentially catastrophic.
National Organizations Helping with Problem Gambling
For anyone needing to locate resources for preventing and treating problem gambling, several national organizations are ready to help. Here are some of the more prominent ones for discovering more about responsible gambling and what to do when gambling becomes problematic.
National Council on Problem Gambling
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) is a national organization as well as a program in which many US states participate as affiliate members. The website includes links to various programs, treatment facilities, screening tools, counselor training, and more, including state-by-state pages with detailed information about local resources.
You can additionally receive various support for gambling problems by contacting the NCPG directly via the 24-7 help line, the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network at 800-522-4700. You can also reach NCPG agents via live chat at ncpgambling.org/chat.
Gamblers Anonymous is another national organization, in this case a “self-help”-styled program patterned after Alcholics Anonymous. Gamblers Anonymous provides a variety of help to problem gamblers, including a 12-step program not unlike the one used by AA designed to carry those in need out of trouble and on the road to recovery.
If you visit the website, you’ll find Gamblers Anonymous has local chapters all over the US. Enter your location to find out when and where meetings occur near you. You can also contact Gamblers Anonymous directly by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 855-222-5542.
Whereas Gamblers Anonymous is directed toward helping individuals suffering from problem gambling, Gam-Anon focuses more on the friends and family members affected by a loved one’s problem gambling.
Gam-Anon can connect people with counselors and health care providers, including mental health professionals, who have experience helping those affected by a family member or friend afflicted with problem gambling or compulsive gambling. The website has information about local meetings and other ways to get help.
Like these other programs, GamTalk is another program that uses the fellowship model by bringing together problem gamblers to support one another.
It is a global organization, and the website includes forums and chat rooms where you can talk with others about various gambling-related issues and problems. The site also provides links to local treatment and support options.
Resources for Problem Gambling in Your State
The above-listed national organizations can connect you with local agencies and groups who can provide both information about responsible gambling and help with problem gambling. You’ll also find that no matter where you reside, each state has its own resources to help prevent and treat problem gambling.
In many cases, these state-level organizations are governmental agencies under the auspices of the state’s department of health. State lotteries tend to have responsible gambling programs or at least provide useful information and links to players on their websites. There are nonprofit groups as well that work to help citizens with gambling problems.
The fact is problem gambling affects individuals, but it is also a concern for the entire community. That’s why every state with legal gambling also works to promote responsible gambling and to provide help with problem gambling.
You can visit the National Council on Problem Gambling site listed above, pick your state, and start finding some links to gambling resources in your state. Here are some state-level problem gambling resources in states that have legalized real-money online poker:
- Delaware — Delaware Council on Gambling Problems
- Michigan — Michigan Association on Problem Gambling
- New Jersey — Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey
- Nevada — Nevada Council on Problem Gambling
- Pennsylvania — Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania
When it comes to problem gambling, don’t hesitate to seek assistance or even just ask questions. In most cases, you can talk to counselors and set up treatment plans at no cost to you.
The Importance of Practicing Responsible Gambling
Many forms of gambling are purely chance-based. The lottery is a good example. Most people who play the lottery understand there is no skill involved. In a way, that is a good thing, making it so that most who buy a lottery ticket do so with full knowledge that they are indeed gambling and have no control over whether they win or lose.
Other forms of gambling involve some skill. Poker is a great example. So is blackjack or even sports betting. With those games, players generally don’t just bet blindly but put some thought into their wagers, and if they make good decisions, they really can improve their chances of winning.
Don’t let the fact that a gambling game has a skill element distract you from the fact that you are still gambling when you play the game. That means you need to approach the game smartly and carefully, and also that you still need to apply all of the same recommendations we are giving you here regarding gambling responsibly.
Always practice responsible gambling whenever you play poker or engage in any other type of real money wagering. Be wary of the signs of problem gambling, and always know you can reach out for help if gambling ever starts to become a problem for you or your loved ones.