The gambling industry in the U.S. generated a revenue of $54.9 billion in 2022, and almost 85% of Americans have gambled at some point in their life.

A significant part of people who gamble get addicted and utilize every possible source of money to finance their wagers. Gambling debt can be debilitating for many Americans and challenging to pay off. 

In this guide, we’ll expand on what gambling debt is, how to avoid it, and how to avoid it in the first place. 

How To Know if You Have a Gambling Addiction

There are three types of gamblers: professional, social, and problem gamblers. The former two are composed and restrained, whereas problem gamblers are addicted to gambling. 

These are a few warning signs of gambling addiction:

  • Frequent discussions about gambling
  • Uncontrollable urge to gamble (compulsive gambling)
  • Selling possessions or making impulsive financial decisions (like taking debt) to obtain money for gambling
  • Willingness to take high risks in gambling
  • Lying to family/friends about money lost in gambling
  • Using cash for other essential expenses on wagering
  • Stealing money from family to gamble
  • Mental health issues when prevented from gambling

What Is Gambling Debt?

Gambling debt refers to any debt incurred due to gambling. Most gamblers are casual gamblers and don’t spend more than they can afford. However, some are problem gamblers who take on debts to gamble. 

The problem has become even bigger with the rise of online gambling websites, where gamblers rely on credit cards for payment. Problem gamblers are addicted to gambling and take on credit card debt to pay for their bets. Most of the time, their luck doesn’t work in their favor, and the money lost wreaks havoc on their financial life. 

A particular type of gambling debt is incurred in the form of casino markers. These are short-term, interest-free lines of credit extended by casinos to a person for gambling activity at their establishment. 

Casino markers usually come with a 30-day grace period during which the borrower can repay their debt and avail of the zero-percent interest. Some casinos ask for a post-dated check as collateral for their markers. 

So, if the borrower doesn’t pay back the debt in the stipulated time, the casino will cash the check to redeem the amount. If the borrower’s bank account does not have the required funds, they can be charged with fraud. Failure to repay a casino marker can attract severe legal action, and a borrower can even end up in jail.

Three Tips For Paying a Gambling Debt

If you have already incurred gambling debt, the most critical and immediate action is to pay it off and avoid debt problems. Consider following these tips:

1. Write It Down!

Being aware of the problem will help you create an effective plan to get out of debt. Take some time to write down how much money you owe. Make a detailed list with information about how much money you’ve borrowed, interest rates, monthly payments, and due dates. 

This includes casinos, bookies, loan sharks, credit card debts, secured or unsecured debts, and even pawned items. This will give you an exact picture of how much you owe and help you create a repayment plan. 

2. Budget and Pay

Create a monthly budget with your monthly income, savings, and investments. Include your essential monthly expenses like utility bills, other debt payments, groceries, utilities, car loan payments, rent/mortgage, and medical bills in your budget. 

This will give you a clear idea of how much money you have on hand after your expenses to pay towards your gambling debt. If you don’t have a lot of money left at the end of the month, consider reducing some expenses, selling unused items, or starting a side hustle to increase your income.  

Start with debts that have the highest interest rates (also called the debt avalanche method) and work your way down. Additionally, stop gambling and adding to your debt to avoid further financial problems.

3. Financial Counseling and Alternative Debt Help Options

If you’re not in a position to manage your debts, seek the help of a nonprofit credit counseling organization.

They offer expert financial advice at a reasonable monthly fee and can also negotiate with your lenders for debt management programs.

You may also want to explore alternative options such as consolidation loans, flexible payment plans, debt settlement programs, and other debt relief programs.

If you can’t repay your debt, consider filing bankruptcy as a last resort. 

3 Steps To Avoid Gambling Debt

Gambling is a vicious cycle. You wager your money in hopes of winning. If you win, you put in more money to win again. If you lose, you might place a higher bet to cover your previous gambling losses. Here’s how you can avoid gambling debt.

1. Acknowledge the Problem

If you’re a compulsive gambler, the first step to avoiding gambling debt is to realize your situation. Knowing and accepting that you’re stuck in the gambling cycle will help you seek help to find ways to overcome the addiction. 

2. Cut off the Funds

Cut off any sources of money that could support your gambling problem. It includes any credit cards, ATM cards, or digital payment sources. If you’re visiting a casino, only take a small amount of money you can afford to lose and never opt for casino markers. Don’t take debit or credit cards to the casino.

If you are a compulsive gambler, operate your accounts jointly with your spouse or a trusted friend/relative. 

3. Seek Help

Consider consulting with your general practitioner or a therapist to treat your gambling addiction. Therapists specializing in addiction management have the resources and knowledge to help you overcome gambling addiction. They can provide you with tools and strategies that can help you. 

How To Help a Loved One With Gambling Addiction

If a family member or friend has a gambling addiction, the best course of action is to encourage them to seek the help of a psychotherapist to manage their addiction.

The National Council on Problem Gambling runs the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network. You can call their helpline number and get immediate assistance and advice on addiction problems.

Alternatively, you can guide them to join local support groups in your city for community help and counseling. Be supportive and understanding of their situation, but avoid lending money or providing them access to money.

Consider Debt Relief To Manage Your Gambling Debt

Whether it’s gambling debt or a combination of other types of debt, proper management is the key to handling them. If your debts have gotten out of your control, it is time to consider debt relief options

Avoiding the problem can make it worse, so it’s best to take action as soon as possible. Your debt balance will continue to rise, and it may lead to adverse financial outcomes, like bankruptcy. Consider seeking professional help for gambling addiction while you’re working to pay off the debt you’ve accumulated.