Just in Time for Awareness Month: New MN Study Reveals Just How Common Problem Gambling Is

Keith was gambling every night. He pulled away from his family, making excuses for being gone, telling lies about where the money was going. “I didn’t get along with anyone, even my wife, Karen. I just figured my world was falling apart and she’d be better off without me,” Keith said.

Gambling problems are real. For most people who enjoy gambling, it is an activity regarded as harmless entertainment. But when someone becomes obsessed with gambling, chasing more wins and hiding severe losses, they may have a gambling disorder.

Problem gambling can affect people of all ages, genders and incomes, as well as all cultures and ethnicities. If not addressed, problem gambling can lead to gambling disorder, which is characterized by:

  • A need to gamble greater amounts to reach the desired excitement;
  • Frequent preoccupation with gambling;
  • A need to bet more money more frequently;
  • Restlessness or irritability when trying to cut down or stop gambling;
  • An inability to stop gambling despite serious negative consequences, such as loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunity.

But how common is gambling? And perhaps more importantly, how common is problem gambling?

It has been 25 years since the last problem gambling study. Now we have a much better idea. A new study, “Gambling in Minnesota: A Study of Participation, Attitudes, and the Prevalence of Problem Gambling,” provides a glimpse into how people gamble and how often, the incidence of problem gambling, and attitudes toward gambling and treatment.

The report is well timed, given that March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Now in its 15th year, Problem Gambling Awareness Month is helping to raise awareness of the prevention, treatment and recovery services available for those adversely affected by gambling. That March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month is no coincidence. “March Madness” leads to an estimated $10 billion in bets placed on the NCAA basketball championship games.

The study from Wilder Research and commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, was done through a random survey of 35,000 households across Minnesota in the spring of 2019. It found that:

  • In the past year, 67% of adults in Minnesota participated in some type of gambling activity;
  • 1.3% of adults in Minnesota are problem gamblers, which represents over 56,000 adults;
  • When considering those at-risk for problem gambling as well, there are over 217,000 adults who may need, or are close to needing, treatment for problem gambling;
  • Among all adults who ever thought they might have a gambling problem, only 14% wanted help or thought about getting help in the past year;
  • 22% of Minnesotans have been negatively affected by the gambling behaviors of a friend, family member, or coworker;
  • Problem gambling is more prevalent among lower income households who can least afford it.

As Keith’s gambling problem got worse, Karen could see the change in him. “Keith turned into a person that I didn’t like and I didn’t know. I couldn’t talk to him,” she said.

“When you’re in the midst of your gambling addiction, you’re not thinking about asking for help because you think you have everybody fooled,” Keith said. “You think no one knows you have a problem. In actuality, everybody knew but me.”

Eventually, Keith got help. “It wasn’t until somebody asked me if I thought I had a gambling problem that I even began to think about dealing with it,” Keith added.

We are all well aware of the array of gambling opportunities available to Minnesotans, including purchasing lottery tickets, playing electronic or table games at casinos, betting on horse races, purchasing pull tabs, buying raffle tickets, and playing bingo, among others. We need to make sure that people are also aware of the array of services that are available should their gambling get out of control.

Which brings us to the most important thing to know about problem gambling: people can and do recover.

Karen said, “Now, he’s a different person. He’s calm, happy and content.”

Added Keith, “Now, I try to give others a piece of my story so they realize it happens to everybody.”

Wondering if you or someone you care about has a gambling problem? You can find a wealth of resources, including a self-assessment, at getgamblinghelp.com. That’s where you can find Keith and Karen’s story, and more stories about people who turned their gambling disorder around.

But it all starts by getting help. Call 800-333-HOPE for free, confidential information and referral to services in your area, or Text HOPE to 61222 and chat with an experienced professional.

Knowledge is power, and armed with a better understanding of the adverse effects of gambling on too many Minnesotans, we can make sure people have the resources they need to get a handle on their gambling. Armed with an understanding of the dangers of problem gambling, we can start to make changes in our lives. And armed with the knowledge that people can and do recover, we can reach out for the help we need.


From the State of Minnesota is provided by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

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