Problem Gambling

Problem gambling is a public health issue affecting many Wisconsin residents of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds. It is said to be a "hidden addiction," because unlike alcohol and drug abuse, most people don't see any of the symptoms. Problem gambling is treatable. 


Frequently asked questions

What is problem gambling?

Problem gambling–or gambling addiction–includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family, or vocational pursuits. The essential features of problem gambling are increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.

Isn't problem gambling just a financial problem?

No. Problem gambling is an emotional problem that has financial consequences. If you pay all of a problem gambler’s debts, the person will still be a problem gambler. The real problem is that they have an uncontrollable obsession with gambling

What kind of people become problem gamblers?

Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. When gambling behavior interferes with finances, relationships and the workplace, a serious problem already exists.

How can a person be addicted to something that isn't a substance?

Although no substance is ingested, the problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as someone else might get from taking a drug or drinking alcohol. The gambling alters the person’s mood and the gambler keeps repeating the behavior attempting to achieve that same effect. But just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before. This creates an increased craving for the activity and the gambler finds they have less and less ability to resist as the craving grows in intensity and frequency.

How much  money do you have to lose before gambling becomes a problem?

The amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes a problem. Gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact on any area of the individual’s life.

How to get help

Call 1-800-GAMBLE-5 (1-800-426-2535). Help is available 24/7. The call is free and confidential.

Fact sheets



Problem gambling screening tools

These tools will determine if there is a problem, but only a professional can diagnose if it is a gambling problem, a different problem, or both.

Have a conversation

Talking with someone about a potential gambling problem can be difficult. Choose the right moment, speak in a caring and understanding tone, and hear what he or she is saying. 

  • Tell the person you care about him/her and you're concerned about how he/she is acting.
  • Tell him/her exactly what he/she has done that concerns you.
  • Tell him/her how his/her behavior is affecting other people. Be specific.
  • Be clear about what you expect from him/her ("I want you to talk to someone about your gambling.") and what he/she can expect from you ("I won't cover for you anymore.")
  • After you've told him/her what you've seen and how you feel, allow him/her to respond. Listen with a non-judgmental attitude.
  • Let him/her know you are willing to help, but don't try to counsel him/her yourself.
  • Give him/her information, not advice.
  • Encourage him/her to call Wisconsin's toll-free helpline: 1-800-GAMBLE-5 or  1-800-426-2535
Responsible gambling tips
  • Set limits on time and money
  • Never gamble when depressed or under stress
  • Keep gambling a social activity
  • Know risks before you bet
  • Never borrow to play
  • Gamble with money set aside for entertainment
  • Bet only what you can afford to lose
  • Don't chase your losses
  • Avoid mixing gambling with alcohol or other substances

Related information

Last Revised: April 1, 2020