Gambling is a popular activity among athletes. It is an additional way to compete and channel their energy, focus and discipline. However, a winning streak never lasts and gambling can become highly addictive for people who don’t like defeat.
Athletes can become so preoccupied with trying to regain control of their gambling activities that it no longer becomes about winning, losing or the competitive element but turns into a downward spiral of addictive and destructive behavior.
In this article, we look at why athletes gamble and treatment options available if you, or a loved one, have a gambling problem.
Prevalence of Gambling Disorder Among Athletes and What Can be Done to Break the Cycle
Research into the prevalence of problem gambling among athletes compared to non-athletes is scarce and studies are difficult to compare for methodological reasons. However, there are some statistics that offer an insight into the occurrence of risky behaviors in sports people.
In the USA, researchers have mainly investigated student athletes as they appear to be particularly susceptible to gambling addiction. A 2005 study into problem gambling and gambling disorder found that nearly 15% of student athletes were classified as meeting criteria for gambling disorder or problem gambling. This group started gambling at a younger age, gambled frequently, had friends and/or family with gambling issues, preferred gambling on games of skill, had positive attitudes towards gambling in general and many were involved in internet gambling.
In the UK, a 2014 study into gambling among sports people found that the prevalence of problem gambling (6%), moderate-risk gambling (14%) and low-risk gambling (19%) far exceeded the equivalent rates of the general population. The study also found that gambling issues were more developed among low-income athletes than high-income athletes.
Problem Gambling in Retired Athletes
Research into the gambling behaviors of former athletes suggests that retired athletes are more susceptible to gambling disorder than current athletes and non-athletes, possibly because of a delayed competitive effect. When they can no longer channel their energy and competitiveness into taking part in sport, they may turn to gambling as a way of satisfying their needs. The study found that retired athletes prefer types of gambling that include a high level of skill and are particularly drawn to sports betting.
In some cases, retired athletes may be unable to financially support themselves at the end of their athletic careers in the manner to which they have become accustomed and gambling may be an attractive source of potential income.
Reasons Why Athletes Are Susceptible to Gambling
There are several reasons why athletes may gamble more than others and be at higher risk of gambling addiction.
Personality Traits of Athletes
Many sports people share the following personality traitswhich can make them more vulnerable to problematic play:
- High levels of energy and commitment
- Motivated by extrinsic rewards
- Unreasonable expectations of winning despite the odds
- Competitive spirit – they don’t like defeat
- Distorted optimism
- Quest for perfectionism
- Prepared to make sacrifices
- Often intelligent with high IQ levels.
Cultural Influences in Sporting Environments
Athletes are influenced by the cultural aspects of theirenvironment where heavy betting is normalized. Sports people often gamble to fit in, believing it is good for team spirit, and may be encouraged to gamble by other players. Exposure to gambling sponsorship and promotion also has an impact on problem gambling among athletes and can increase awareness and the frequency of their gambling. Some gambling companies encourage sports people to bet or even appear in gambling advertisements.
A 2016 study into the experience of gambling problems in British professional footballers highlights gambling as a ‘highly salient feature’ of their life as elite athletes. What began as a social activity among players developed into gambling disorder in isolation. The study found that several risk factors facilitated this transition including high salaries, considerable leisure time as well as the emotional challenges of the game such losing form, injury or contract release.
Signs of Problematic Gambling in Athletes
In some athletes, what starts as a fun way to demonstrate their skill and knowledge to teammates, can spiral out of control and have negative consequences for their sporting career and personal life. Although they may try to hide their dependency on gambling, there are several telltale signs that it is becoming an unhealthy habit:
- Feeling guilty about gambling and making repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or quit gambling.
- Needing to gamble larger amounts of money to achieve the same ‘high’.
- Prioritizing gambling over everything else in their life – missing training sessions, matches or games, and other important work or personal commitments due to gambling.
- Constantly thinking about when they can gamble next or how they can get money to gamble.
- Being restless or irritable when unable to gamble.
- Gambling to escape from low moods.
- Feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or experiencing other mental or physical health problems because of gambling
- Lying about the amount of time and money they spend on gambling.
- Being defensive about gambling activity if confronted by friends, family, coaches or teammates.
- Getting into debt, borrowing – or even stealing – money to support their gambling activities.
- Betting more than they can afford to lose.
- Feeling compelled to ‘chase losses’ to win back money lost even if the odds are stacked against them.
Find Out if You Have a Gambling Problem
Take our online gambling disorder test to find out the extent to which gambling is impacting your life. It is a free and confidential assessment of whether you are exhibiting the signs of gambling addiction.
Get Specialist Help
If you, or a loved one, are an athlete struggling with problem gambling, it is possible to get your life back on track.
At Kindbridge, we offer high-quality online counseling for gambling disorder and any co-occurring mental health problems. Receive specialist therapy tailored to your needs from the comfort of your home.
Start today by booking a free consultation so we can discuss your treatment options. Call us on +1 (877) 426-4258 or email [email protected]