Identifying Types of Gamblers


Gambling is meant to be a form of entertainment, and for most people it as. However, some people become addicted to the rush and are unable to control themselves – even as their gambling devastates them and their loved ones through financial ruin, family dysfunction and emotional instability. There are many different types of gamblers:1

+ Social
  • Gambling is one of many forms of entertainment they engage in (but not the primary one).
  • Rarely think about gambling
  • Generally gamble infrequently, but there may be some regular activity as well (e.g., a monthly poker game, an occasional vacation to Las Vegas, a weekly or even daily lottery ticket)
  • Gambling does not result in any negative life consequences
  • Possess control over gambling duration, frequency or money spent (with very rare exceptions)
  • Would not be upset if unable to ever gamble again
  • Have no lasting negative financial consequences as a result of the gambling
  • There are no attempts to hide any aspect of gambling behavior
  • Other people do not see their gambling as excessive

+ Frequent
  • Social gamblers may also be referred to as ‘recreational’ gamblers. Most gamblers fall under this category.
  • Gambling is an important part of their lives and would be missed if they could not engage in it
  • May have an intense focus on one form of gambling (e.g., horse racing, poker, sports betting)
  • No loss of control over wager amount or frequency
  • No progressive increase in wager size over time
  • No financial strain due to gambling (money for retirement, family, health, etc., is not being spent)
  • Money is not borrowed from any source (including credit cards)
  • Gambling is generally not viewed as a way to pay for basic life necessities or luxuries
  • Gambling activity does not cause relationship arguments or other problems
  • Gambling does not diminish work performance or focus at work
  • Wager size is responsible and reasonable for the person’s income
  • Relationships with family members and friends are not diminished due to time spent gambling
  • Time spent gambling appears reasonable to an outsider
  • Does not chase losses (i.e., does not continue betting to “get even”)
  • There are no mood swings associated with wins and losses
  • Remains interested in non-gambling activities and engages in them frequently
  • Non-gambling friends and activities are plentiful
  • Has the potential to become a problem or pathological gambler

Note: If a gambler is affluent the distinction between frequent and problem gambling is somewhat more complicated.

+ Binge
  • They may also be referred to as ‘heavy’ or ‘serious’ gamblers.
  • Frequency of gambling episodes are periodic rather than consistent
  • Long periods of no gambling are followed by binges that can be very costly financially and emotionally, as well as damaging to relationships
  • Has an illusion of being in control that is a function of the ability to have extended periods of no gambling
  • The relapse cycle is often triggered by a perceived “surplus” of money, while the binge cycle typically ends after a big loss

+ Professional
  • Rarely loses control when placing bets.
  • Gambling is methodical and planned (e.g., a professional horse gambler may not bet on every race)
  • Maintains discipline and refrains from impulsive betting
  • Accepts financial losses without chasing to win them back
  • Gambling is their primary source of income
  • Has the potential to become a problem or pathological gambler

Note 1: Professional gamblers do not meet the DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling, but may have a couple of symptoms (e.g., preoccupation). It can be very complex to distinguish professional gamblers from problem and pathological gamblers, and the assessment should only be conducted by a trained professional who also consults with the gambler’s family/friends regarding the presence of symptoms.

Note 2: Most problem and pathological gamblers fantasize about being a professional gambler or mistakenly believe that they are. However, there are very few true professional gamblers.

Note 3: In the year 2000, it was estimated that there were fewer than 3,000 professional gamblers in the U.S. and Canada, and only 50 professional gamblers in the U.S. who earned more than $100,000 annually by gambling. Psychological profiles of professional horse gamblers show they tend to be somewhat boring, socially insensitive, extremely unsentimental, hyper-vigilant and very tense. (McCown & Chamberlain, 2000)

+ Antisocial
  • Engages in criminal activities, scams and rip-offs.
  • Gambling is a way to steal money; the gambler may use loaded dice, marked cards, and fixed sports events or horse races
  • Different from gamblers who commit a crime to pay debt
  • May have a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder

+ Problem
  • Gambling results in at least one negative consequence to the gambler or a person in their life (includes relationship problems).
  • Money used for gambling should be allocated for other purposes
  • There might be family discord regarding the time or amount of money spent gambling
  • Gambling may diminish work performance or ability to fully focus on work
  • Long-term goals and ambitions are sometimes replaced by gambling
  • May quit or stop for periods of time, and may do so to “prove” that they do not have a problem
  • Difficulty tolerating losing, e.g., mood swings after losing, chasing loses
  • May deny having a problem while others can see it
  • Discomfort with gambling behavior results in attempts to hide or minimize it
  • Gambling is seen as a second occupation with revenue potential (may want to become professional gamblers)
  • May use gambling as a way to support costs of daily living, eventually getting into financial difficulties
  • Amount of time spent gambling seems excessive to an outsider
  • Money to gamble may be borrowed from others or from credit cards
  • May stop gambling after a large loss only to resume after finances have improved
  • Often becomes a “celebrity” at gambling venues, e.g., known by name to staff, receives comps or other reward programs that encourage additional gambling
  • Gambling behavior does not meet full criteria for a formal diagnosis of pathological gambling (as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry, DSM-V™) but often meets one to three symptoms

+ Action
  • Feel a rush that is likely related to an excessive release of the neurotransmitter dopamine (a brain chemical associated with an experience of pleasure).
  • Gets particularly excited about the prospect of gambling, which may or may not be outwardly expressed
  • Typically has a preference for games such as cards, craps, roulette and sports betting
  • May bet larger amounts after a win
  • The feeling of excitement from gambling becomes a major focus
  • Action gamblers are more likely to be men than women
  • Are often highly intelligent, highly motivated and have Type-A personalities
  • More likely to bet when they are feeling good, happy or lucky (in contrast to an escape gambler)1

+ Escape
  • Often gamble to escape emotional pain and life problems.
  • May move into a numb, trance-like, state of consciousness in which they forget about problems
  • Favored betting activities include slot machines and video poker
  • May once have been action gamblers that have gambled for many years
  • More likely to have been physically or emotionally abused
  • Escape gamblers are more likely to be women than men

+ Disordered
  • Disordered gambling is the only kind of gambling considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
  • Often have been in a financial situation that required help from a friend or family member, or have maxed out on credit cards or obtained loans from a financial institution
  • Have many of the same symptoms as problem gamblers (see above list)
  • May try to justify, rationalize or otherwise minimize their behavior to others
  • May see their issue as a financial problem, not a gambling problem
  • May claim others are the cause for the stress they’re experiencing
  • May plan to cover expenses for basic living with money won from gambling
  • Winning begets more gambling, and winning proceeds are used for more gambling
  • Disordered gamblers are typically unaware of the impact of their behavior on others, thinking they are only causing harm to themselves
  • Year-by-year increases in amount wagered
  • Often, but not always, uses money for gambling that should be used for retirement or other investments
  • Do not have to gamble every day to be considered pathological
  • The need to find gambling money may result in creative ways to obtain loans and credit
  • Gambling behavior and constant borrowing may destroy relationships
  • May be able to quit gambling occasionally, but not for extended periods of time
  • After large wins or losses, may promise to quit gambling but is unable to do so for long
  • Often experiences strong desire and urge to gamble
  • Blames spouse/partner for problems and frequent fights
  • Experiences great exhilaration when about to gamble or entering a gambling venue
  • After time away, a visit to a gambling establishment may feel like “coming home”
  • In some cases, gambler may view casino staff as friends, though there is no connection outside of gambling
  • The idea of a big win is seen as the solution to the financial problems and stress created by gambling, (i.e., the problem is viewed as the solution)
  • Meets the criteria for compulsive gambling disorder as detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry, DSM-V™ (minimum 4 of 9 criteria)
  • Even severely disordered gamblers may strongly feel they are not disordered (compulsive or pathological)

In past versions of the DSM, disordered gamblers were referred to as ‘pathological’ or ‘compulsive’ gamblers. They may also be called ‘gambling addicts.’

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