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Problem Gambling and the Workplace

Just a generation ago, legal gambling was largely confined and problem gamblers were viewed as societal misfits. Now gambling is part of our mainstream culture and we know that most problem gamblers are ordinary hard working people. Data from gambling treatment programs shows that a majority of problem gamblers seeking treatment are employed.

What is Problem Gambling?
A problem gambler is anyone whose gambling is causing psychological, financial, emotional, marital, legal, or other difficulties for themselves and the people around them. Problem gambling may be an isolated case of overspending, or a pattern of excessive gambling when upset, or it may be an ongoing problem with continual losses and mounting debts. At the extreme end of this range is pathological gambling, where people are unable to control their gambling much as those addicted to alcohol are unable to control their drinking. Sometimes the gambling problem is transient and goes away, sometimes it plateaus and maintains for years, and sometimes it progresses to catastrophic levels. Regardless of the course, problem gamblers usually experience intense shame, financial strife, and family problems.

Co-workers Are Often the First Line of Defense
Gambling and gambling related activities are frequently carried out during work hours. The workplace is used as a shield to hide the problem gambling from family members. This leaves managers and co-workers as the first line of defense. The challenge is to identify the problem gambler before they become desperate. To this end, it is important that all employers and employees develop a greater awareness of the signs associated with a gambling problem.

Workplace Signs of a Gambling Problem

Work performance deteriorates; the person is preoccupied, has trouble concentrating, is absent or late for meetings and misses assignment deadlines.
Frequent unexplained absences or disappearances from work.
Eager to organize and participate in betting opportunities.
Pay is requested in lieu of vacation time, large blocks of vacation time are not taken.
Frequently borrows money, argues with co-workers about money that is owed to them.
Complains about mounting debts.
Excessive use of the telephone for personal calls.
Experiences mood swings, often related to winning and losing streaks.
Credit card or loan bills are mailed to work rather than home.
Increasingly spends more time gambling during lunch hours and coffee breaks.
False claims are made against expense accounts.
Theft of company property.

Although not often recognized, problem gambling is a significant workforce issue. The effects of a gambling problem almost always spill over into the workplace. This occurs through either the gambler themselves or a family member who is living with the effects of a gambling problem. The workplace is primarily affected through lost time, lost productivity and in desperate situations the gambler may resort to theft.

Lost time
Individuals with gambling problems can become completely preoccupied with gambling. The workday is often spent either in the act of gambling, planning the next opportunity, or plotting to get money for gambling. Family members also become preoccupied, worrying about finances and holding the family together. There are feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, isolation and desperation. Family members (spouses, children, and parents) feel like their life is consumed by the problems they are facing.

Lost productivity

As a result of lost time, the company’s productivity is damaged. The gambler becomes unreliable, misses project deadlines and important meetings and produces work that is of poor quality. Physical and emotional health problems associated with excessive gambling can further diminish work performance and attendance. Depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, or stress-related illness can surface in individuals with gambling-related problems and their family members. Suicide and suicide attempts are high among individuals with gambling problems. Stressed family members are also at risk of suicide. The emotional, financial or legal problems can appear to be so severe that suicide looks like the only “way out.”

Theft, fraud and embezzlement Employees with severe problems may commit theft, fraud or embezzlement. Money is the gambler’s key to action. Once all legitimate avenues to obtain cash are exhausted, the gambler, in desperation, may resort to illegal acts to acquire cash. The workplace becomes a primary avenue for the gambler to illegally finance their gambling. Gamblers do not see this activity as stealing. They see it as “borrowing money” and plan to replace it when they win.

Read Part II - Responding to the Problem >>

To identify resources for an employee or co-worker who has a gambling problem, call:



Don’t Wait For The Problem To Get Worse!