Most sports fans associate the month of March with March Madness. While the men’s college basketball tournament certainly gets a lot of play in cultural forums, March also happens to be known as another thing — Problem Gambling Awareness Month.
It’s no coincidence the two events go hand in hand, either. Unlike the Super Bowl, March Madness doesn’t occur within a single day. Rather, as the name suggests, it stretches for almost an entire month.
With 130 games between both the men and women, NCAA Tournament competition draws in countless new people trying out sports betting for the first time. On average, the first week of March Madness sees roughly four times more wagering activity than a typical weekend.
Responsible gambling habits often go out the window, significantly increasing the risk of a bettor developing a gambling addiction.
Here are five signs to watch for within yourself and loved ones this March Madness as the betting mania ensues.
1) Chasing the loss
Sometimes one lost bet can turn into two. Then two lost wagers turns into four. And before you know it, you’re placing one big wager after another trying to recoup your funds.
Trying to win back money you lost by betting more is called chasing your loss. If you’ve noticed this tendency cropping up, consider this red flag No. 1.
2) Wagering more to feel the same thrill; inability to quit
Enjoying betting on a game is one thing. But when that joy turns into preoccupation, that’s when the issues begin.
It can start with a fixation on placing the next bet. But soon, that $10 bet won’t create quite the same dopamine rush anymore. Instead, you might find yourself wagering more and more to feel that same thrill.
That means you’ll also have to come up with more money to fund these wagers.
Maybe you eventually found a way to cut back on your gambling or quit for a period of time. But were you able to do so without feeling restless or irritable in the process?
For those with an addiction, that fixation on not gambling eventually turns into a fixation on gambling once again.
3) Asking to borrow money
What begins as a single person’s problem eventually evolves into an entire family’s issue. A new study suggests that for every person who develops a gambling addiction, another eight to 10 loved ones are affected.
Perhaps you’ve gambled all your money away, and now you need someone to help bail you out of financial trouble.
More often, an at-risk gambler may start by asking a loved one for help paying a bill. Any borrowed money, though, likely goes straight back to gambling.
That leads us straight to our next red flag – deception.
4) Lying about betting
Because of the cultural shame associated with addiction and financial loss, gamblers are rarely eager to share their issues with loved ones.
Problem gamblers will try to cover up the true extent of their betting. Maybe they’ve said they’re busy at work or have extra bills to pay this month. But in reality, they’ve been gambling that time and money away.
These little fibs turn into elaborate lies, and gambling slowly becomes a priority over important relationships and jobs. Since these issues often develop over a period of time, they can be difficult to notice until the snowball really starts rolling.
After all, addicts typically go to great lengths to hide their problems.
5) Gambling to escape problems
Sports betting should be viewed as a form of entertainment, much like going to a movie or concert.
To someone experiencing gambling problems, gambling feels more like a necessity. It’s used as a means of escape – a temporary fix to alleviate guilt, anxiety or depression.
As such, gambling should only be done when you’re in a good mood.
Placing a big wager after a bad day at work or an argument with a spouse may help blow off steam in the short term. But it’s almost always an indicator of bigger issues.
If you’ve been experiencing any of the potential warning signs listed above, reaching out for help sooner rather than later can make all the difference.
Bettors can access a variety of helpful ways to gamble responsibly at the National Council on Problem Gambling site ResponsiblePlay.org.
For confidential help and state-specific resources, call the 24/7 hotline 1-800-GAMBLER.