Problem gambling

The Health Care Authority (HCA) is responsible for planning, implementing, and quality oversight for state-funded prevention and treatment services for problem gambling. An advisory committee also oversees services.

How do I know if someone has a gambling problem?

Gambler’s Anonymous has a list of 20 questions they ask people who suspect they might have a problem. These questions are:

  1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
  10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
  14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

If someone answers “yes” to at least seven of these questions, Gambler’s Anonymous would consider them a compulsive gambler.

To know if you are living with someone who might be a compulsive gambler, take the assessment questionnaire.

What should I do if I think I have a gambling problem?

For information about problem gambling, and how to get help, call the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling (ECPG) Help Line at 1-800-547-6133.

They are open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

Who is eligible to receive treatment?

All Washington residents, including people who gamble and their family members, are eligible for treatment services.

You may access treatment by calling the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling Help Line, open 24/7,  at 1-800-547-6133. If you have funds or insurance that will cover treatment, help line staff will refer you to a private, experienced counselor.

If you do not have funds or insurance, you may qualify for state-funded treatment. You are eligible for treatment if:

  • You need treatment for a gambling disorder.
  • A family member seeks treatment because he or she is affected by a gambling disorder.
  • You are unable to afford treatment.
  • You have a strong desire to get help.

See our directory of state-funded and certified agencies.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Yes.  Most gamblers, about 96 percent, are social gamblers. They are able to:

  • Decide on a loss limit ahead of time and stick to it.
  • Never borrow money to gamble.
  • Set a time limit.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Balance gambling with other activities.
  • Don’t gamble when highly stressed, depressed or troubled in some other way.
  • Only gamble with money set aside for entertainment, never with money for everyday expenses.

Serious social gambler

Some social gamblers are very serious about their gambling. For example, they go to bingo or poker games every Thursday night, and won't let other things interfere with this. These gamblers are called serious social gamblers. This is similar to people who are serious about working out or playing tennis or golf. These gamblers gamble regularly, but they are able to quit without showing signs of withdrawal or irritability.

At-risk gambler

Some gamblers are called at-risk gamblers. This term can refer to people who score 1 or 2 on a gambling screen, such as the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS).  It can mean people who fit certain characteristics. For instance, studies show that teen boys who cut school or smoke cigarettes have a higher incidence of gambling behaviors.  All teen boys who smoke and cut school could be considered “at risk” for gambling problems because this behavior is associated with a higher rate of gambling than the general population.

Problem gambler

The term, problem gambler, is used to describe someone who scores 3-4 on the South Oaks Gambling Screen. In a less scientific way, it is also used to describe anyone who has problems because of gambling. See the warning signs of a gambling problem.

Compulsive gambler

A person might be considered a compulsive gambler if he or she can answer yes to seven of the 20 Questions from Gambler’s Anonymous (see How do I know if someone has a gambling problem). The word compulsive means an irresistible impulse to act irrationally. The term compulsive gambler implies that a person is unable to control gambling.

Gambling disorder

Gambling disorder is a term used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition, (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is found among Non-Substance Related Disorders, 312.31. There is a list of nine criteria, of which a person must admit to four, to be diagnosed with a gambling disorder.

Seniors are easily recognizable in gaming venues, but it is unknown if they have a higher rate of gambling problems than other age groups. More information on seniors and gambling.

The goal of the Problem Gambling Advisory Committee is to provide the best prevention and treatment services to problem gamblers and their family members.

Participants include representatives from the:

  • Recreational Gaming Association
  • Washington Gambling Commission
  • Washington’s Lottery
  • Washington Horse Racing Commission
  • Tribes
  • Washington Indian Gaming Association
  • Treatment providers
  • Recovering gamblers
  • Advocacy agencies

Law enforcement, defense attorneys, and the Certification Board for Gambling Treatment Providers are also represented.

The Committee meets monthly, with work groups that address helpline, prevention, training, and treatment.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1031 provides funding for prevention and treatment services from Washington’s Lottery, the Washington Horse Racing Commission and recreational gaming licensees.

These commissions pay a tax of 0.013 percent from their gross revenues. Washington Tribal governments may also voluntarily fund treatment services.