Can You Gamble Without Money? It’s a Dangerous Question to Ask

Every month, thousands of Americans go online to inquire about options for gambling that don’t directly involve money. The motivation behind this sort of query is wrought with concern. It implies that money is the sole qualifier in the gambling equation, and that by removing it, the “risk” associated with the activity is removed. From this a seed is planted that can germinate and grow into a deeper seeded concern. Can you gamble without money? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask.

Why the Question Regarding “No Money” Gambling is Problematic for Many Members of the American Population

No-Money Has No Bearing on Vulnerable Members of the Population

The definition of gambling is as such:

“Gambling involves the betting or staking, of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation.”


While the definition helps confirm that sports betting and daily fantasy sports are indeed forms of gambling and should be regulated accordingly, it can also backfire. Leaning on this definition allows vulnerable individuals to justify and rationalize participation in an activity that could compromise their already complicated relationship with gambling. And it’s not just those who have a predisposition to gambling disorder that should steer clear of no-money gambling, as addictive behavior can be formed within many others.

Similar Physiological Function in the Brain

The concern is steeped in the fact that no-money casino gaming (and fantasy sport) has the same relative impact on the brain in regards to the release of dopamine – a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Dopamine is referred to as the “feel good hormone” because its surge can create an experience similar to the euphoria associated with use of addictive stimulant drugs. Whether winning or losing, no-money gambling (even video gaming) raises dopamine in the same relative manner as it does with traditional gambling. Over time, your brain and body become accustomed to this psychological and physiological response and habitual behavior is formed.

Consequently, someone who wonders if they can gamble without money as a means to break free from a problematic gambling habit isn’t doing themselves any favors. Sure, there is no money at risk (yet) but the mental and behavioral health implications are evident. Furthermore, any sort of participation in entertainment that mimics the act of gambling could trigger them to re-up into the real money version where consequences become financial.

Gateway to Youth Gambling Addiction

Speaking of vulnerable individuals, the concept of no-money gambling is extremely dangerous when youth are involved. Most parents understand that giving kids candy cigarettes and non-alcoholic beer can set the table for habitual consumption problems later in life, so why not consider entertainment with gambling themes in the same manner?

The frontal lobe that gives us reasoning isn’t fully developed in teenagers. If they are involved in gambling-adjacent games during this phase, it can affect how their brain develops. Games that follow the same unpredictable reward structure as slot machines and table games drive aforementioned dopamine spikes and they (youth) can become obsessed with the activity. Eventually they may graduate into the regulated (and unregulated) real money environment. America already has a teenage gambling problem – the last thing they need is another gateway.

It’s a Lure Used by Certain Casino Operators

Certain operators use the no-money gambling tactic as a means to skirt regulations while hooking players who may initially have been averse to gambling with cash. These operators are known as social or sweepstakes casinos. They hide the real money angle under the guise of “gold coins” along with tokens that can be purchased (not technically wagered) to play with. As win totals are accumulated, players can exchange their coins or tokens for real money. If they don’t win, well, the platforms simply chalk those gold coin and token purchases up to the cost of entertainment. This is all of the reasoning a problem gambler needs to justify participation, while the social/sweepstakes platforms reap the fiscal rewards. Ultimately, this is yet another form of gambling that hides behind how money moves.

Can you gamble without money? Yes, but is it worth the cost for vulnerable populations and those who currently have a problematic relationship with the activity? If you find yourself asking today’s question and recognize that your motivation behind the inquiry is rooted in the need to rationalize participation, it may be time to speak to a Kindbridge specialist.

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