How to prevent problem gambling: Responsible gambling tools and practices

Gambling is a very divisive topic. Most players tend to disregard any potential harm their hobby could cause them, while their opponents can't see anything past the threat of problem gambling. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in-between. Although it is true that many people can enjoy a game of blackjack or a spin of the slots without any issue, a single bad mistake can set you on the path towards gambling addiction.

When a player does lose control of their gambling habits, the consequences can be disastrous. If you let it, problem gambling can destroy your financial stability, break up your family, and cause real harm to your mental and physical health.

And though it is possible to overcome gambling addiction, it is best to avoid it in the first place. To that end, I have compiled a list of safe gambling practices, which can help protect you from problem gambling. You will also find an assortment of responsible gambling tools developed by industry gambling providers, regulators, which you can use to keep your gambling habits in check.

These safe gambling practices and tools are listed below and discussed in-depth further into the article. Click on any of the listed items to be directly taken to it on the page.

Note: While the practices and tools described in this article can help protect you to some degree, the only 100% safe solution to avoid problem gambling is to not gamble at all. If you already suffer from gambling addiction, these measures are unlikely to cure you, and I recommend you read my article on instead...

Safe gambling practices

People often say that if you are going to do something, you ought to do it right. That goes for gambling as well. Many people become problem gamblers simply because they do not understand the risks and necessary precautions they should take. Safe gambling practices span across many different aspects of life, but the ones you should always keep in mind are the following three pieces of advice.

1. Adjust your expectations and budget accordingly

Have you ever heard someone say, "Get rich or die trying"? Unfortunately, in any casino in the world, you are more likely to do the latter. When you gamble at a casino, you are invariably playing at a disadvantage.

All games of chance are without fault set up to favor the casino, so that the House always wins. You might get lucky from time to time and win a little, but gambling is not a reliable or sustainable way to make money in the long run. Instead, it is a business transaction like any other. You pay to play.

However, we cannot overlook the importance money plays in gambling. It is key to the thrill players get from the game and one of the most significant problem gambling causes. Problem gamblers tend to suffer from serious financial issues due to gambling addiction's cyclical nature. The phenomenon known as the Problem Gambler's Financial Spiral causes addicted players to chase after that one big win that would solve everything, while they lose more and more money in the process.

To make up for this, they will often cut back on perceived "unimportant expenses", like food, rent, electrical bills, etc. Borrowing money from friends, family, banks, and even loan sharks is also common. In a worst-case scenario, a problem gambler might turn to crime to support his addiction.

To avoid this unfortunate fate, you should start by setting a gambling budget. You can do it unofficially just by yourself, but you may find it difficult to follow. In that case, casinos tend to offer several gambling budget variations, which is further discussed in this article's responsible gambling tools section. It is also in your best interest to never borrow money for gambling and never chase your losses.

2. Play with a clear head

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to only gamble with a clear head and in a healthy state of mind. It should come as no surprise that risk-taking does not go well with drugs, alcohol, or any other substance that clouds your judgment.

You are much more likely to take more significant risks and make bad decisions with your rationale impaired than when sober. In the best-case scenario, the decision to play while under the influence will just cause you to lose more money than you usually would. The real danger lies in a mental link developing between gambling and whatever it was you took. If this happens, you will feel compelled to gamble whenever you come under the influence.

And it does not stop at intoxicating substances either. The same danger exists if you decide to cope with your anger, anxiety, or depression through gambling. That is why I implore you to only play with a clear head and in a healthy state of mind. One wrong decision or moment of weakness can send you down a bad path. So, stay safe.

3. Keep an eye on your gambling habits

The game of cat and mouse between a gambler and gambling addiction is never really over. But if you want to successfully avoid it in the long-run, you should know what problem gambling and its warning signs are.

Problem gambling is best defined as a person's unhealthy obsession with gambling, where they either cannot or are unwilling to stop gambling, despite the adverse effects it has on their life. Gambling addiction can affect every aspect of a player's life, so its many observable symptoms can be divided into the following abbreviated categories:

  1. Wanting to stop gambling and feeling remorse after playing
  2. Money-related symptoms - chasing losses, borrowing money to sustain gambling habits, saving money in other parts of life to spend on gambling
  3. Time-related symptoms - not finding time for other activities due to gambling
  4. Work-related symptoms - loss of ambitions and goals, missing work due to gambling
  5. Social symptoms - deteriorating relationships and losing touch with other people, lying about gambling
  6. Psychological and biological symptoms - insomnia (sleeplessness), anxiety, irritability, depression, using gambling as a coping mechanism

You can learn more about these individual categories, as well as the stages of problem gambling in my article about problem gambling symptoms and diagnosis. If you notice any of the abovementioned symptoms in yourself, I highly recommend you try one of the problem gambling self-diagnosis tools from the same article.

Responsible gambling tools

Responsible gambling tools are various applications and services offered by casinos and casino regulators. They are supposed to help you keep your gambling habits in check. So I highly recommend you take advantage of them.

1. Self-exclusion schemes

If you feel that your gambling habits are getting out of control and you need to distance yourself from them, you should consider self-exclusion. Self-exclusion schemes allow players to ban themselves from gambling at casinos for a certain period - typically 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, or indefinitely.

Following your self-exclusion, you should not be allowed to play at the affected casino(s) nor receive any marketing communication from them. Most reputable casinos will not lift the self-exclusion prematurely, and you will only be allowed to start gambling after the self-exclusion has passed. However, some casinos may allow you to end the self-exclusion early, but only after a cooling-off period, typically 1 week long.

There are two types of self-exclusion schemes available: single-operator schemes and multi-operator (or nation-wide) schemes.

Single-operator schemes

Single-operator schemes are limited to a single casino. If you wish to sign up for one, navigate to the "responsible gambling" section on your chosen casino's site and fill out the required forms, if provided, or contact customer support. Unfortunately, these schemes are typically very easy to bypass by just playing at a different casino. If you want to be safe, you might have to self-exclude from multiple casinos individually, or use the national scheme, if available.

Multi-operator schemes

Multi-operator schemes are set up by local governments and regulators and apply to all gambling operators licensed in that jurisdiction. The best examples are the UK's GamStop, Sweden's Spelpaus, and Malta's currently unfinished Unified Self-Exclusion Scheme.

Note: Right now, only citizens from these countries can participate in their national self-exclusion schemes. If this applies to you, you can self-exclude by visiting their corresponding websites, filling out the self-exclusion form, and providing all necessary personal information. After your request is processed, you should receive a notification confirming your self-exclusion.

2. Gambling limits

If self-exclusion seems far too radical of a solution for you, but you still wish to keep your gambling under control, you should consider setting one or several gambling limits.

Here are the most common ones:

  • Deposit limits let you control how much money you can deposit into your casino account over a specific duration. Deposit limits are accumulative, so regardless of whether you make big or small single deposits, their sum over the select time can't be higher than the set amount.
  • Loss limits stop you from losing more money in a given time than you can afford by tracking your wins/losses and preventing you from gambling any further if you are at risk of surpassing the set loss limit.
  • Wagering limits put a hard stop on the total amount of money you can wager in the set time duration.
  • Session time limits are generally an uncommon option for casinos to provide. You can set up a session time limit to stop yourself from losing track of time and gambling for far too long. Once you've run out of time, you will not be allowed to gamble anymore, though you should still be able to access your account and make withdrawals.
  • Bet size limits do what they say on the tin. Once you set a bet size limit, you will not be able to place any bets higher than your determined amount. Sometimes casinos offer the option to set different bet size limits for different kinds of casino games.

Note: Most commonly, you can set your limits for 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month. You can set the amount and the time yourself, and if you want to, you can even lower the limits at any time, effective immediately. However, should you wish to raise them, casinos tend to enforce a waiting period before the changes take effect - anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days.

3. Reality checks

If you do not like the idea of restricting your gambling with limits, reality checks might be the right option for you. Reality checks track your gambling throughout your session, including your wins, losses, money spent, and session length. After a set amount of time, you will receive the reality check notification, which will give you information on all these aspects of your play and give you the option to either stop or continue playing.

I hope you found this article helpful and do your best to follow my advice. If you let it, problem gambling can destroy your life and the lives of those around you. Make sure to try to gamble safely and responsibly and seek help as soon as you suspect something might be wrong.

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