Problem Gambling

24/7 Help is Available. Call 1-800-GAMBLE-5.

The Department of Health Services has partnered with the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling to raise awareness about problem gambling and the support available to individuals and their families.

What is Problem Gambling?

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling defines problem gambling as a disorder characterized by loss of control over gambling.  Individuals with this disorder have a preoccupation with gambling and continue with it despite adverse consequences.

The "Hidden Addiction"

Since 1980, the American Psychiatric Association has recognized problem gambling as a mental disorder. It is said to be the "hidden addiction," because unlike alcohol and drug abuse, most people don't see any of the symptoms. Even spouses and other family members seldom recognize the problem until it is too late.

Problem gamblers are completely preoccupied with gambling. Gambling becomes the focal point of their lives, just as the lives of alcohol and drug abusers revolve around obtaining and consuming alcohol or drugs. The problem gambler becomes obsessed with getting money to gamble so that he or she can pay off past gambling debts. Like alcohol and drug abuse, problem gambling feeds upon itself. When problem gamblers lose at gambling, they "chase their losses." Instead of seeing gambling as the problem, they see it as the solution. It's also important to note that they have a higher rate of suicide than other addictions. Eventually problem gamblers ask relatives and friends to "bail them out." When that fails to stop their addiction, they often engage in illegal acts such as embezzlement, fraud or forgery. It is at that point that a problem gambler sees self-destruction as the only way out.

Signs of Problem Gambling

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling has compiled a list of behaviors that may signal someone is a problem gambler and needs help.

  • Constantly thinking about or talking about gambling
  • Repeated attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling
  • Gambling to escape stress or other problems
  • Spending more time or money on gambling than you can afford
  • Gambling until all of your money is gone or gambling to try to win back previous losses
  • Lying about your gambling activity
  • Borrowing money for gambling
  • Stealing money to get more cash to bet
  • Neglecting work, family, household responsibilities or personal needs because of gambling

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 caring and understanding tone, and hear what he or she is saying. The National Council on Problem Gambling offers these tips to start the conversation:

  • 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. (1-800-426-2535)

Other Resources


Training for Service Providers

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling has partnered with Concordia University Wisconsin to offer a gambling disorder training program. (Brochure (PDF, 2 KB) )


Last Revised: August 25, 2016