Problem gambling may affect more than 1 million California residents.
In a state that offers relatively easy access to several types of gambling outlets, the concept of responsible gambling is especially essential.
What is responsible gambling, what is problem gambling and what does it all mean for Californians?
What is responsible gambling?
Responsible gambling for players
Responsible gambling for players involves playing for fun and entertainment while being aware of the risks associated with gambling.
Players who gamble responsibly typically don’t suffer negative consequences from their gambling behavior. Responsible gamblers don’t bet more than they can or are willing to lose, and they consider wins a bonus as opposed to a necessity.
Responsible gambling for gambling providers
Gambling establishments, including California’s card rooms and tribal casinos, use responsible gambling guidelines and protocols to provide safe, fair and ethical gaming environments as well as support for problem gamblers.
Examples of responsible gambling practices:
- Ethical marketing practices that don’t target players who are at-risk for gambling problems.
- Training staff to recognize problem gambling behaviors.
- Successfully banning people who self-exclude themselves from gambling.
- Providing resources on problem gambling.
What is problem gambling?
A person with a gambling problem spends time and money gambling in a harmful way. Problem gambling can negatively affect personal relationships, professional life, mental health and finances.
Problem gambling behavior can manifest differently in individuals.
For example, some people may have a problem with any form of gambling, while others may only have a problem with one specific kind of gambling. Yet, others may not gamble most of the time but then go on gambling binges.
What is gambling addiction?
When a problem gambler loses control over gambling, it can become compulsive or an addiction. As a gambling addiction gets worse, the negative impacts usually become more severe.
Possible signs of gambling addiction:
- Behaviors that escalate with bigger bets and/or increased frequency to try to recapture the “rush” or win back losses.
- Continuing to gamble until the bankroll is gone; not being able to stop when ahead.
- Inability to stop gambling despite trying.
- General preoccupation with gambling.
Do you have a gambling problem?
The California Department of Health provides a free and simple online assessment form to help you determine if you have a gambling problem.
If you answer yes to any of the questions on the assessment form, the site provides help and resources.
Signs of problem gambling behavior may include:
- Gambling to try to win back losses.
- Lying about winning when you’ve lost.
- Spending more money or time gambling than you intended to.
- Other people have discussed or criticized your gambling habits.
- Feeling guilty about gambling and its consequences.
- Hiding your gambling activities from your family or friends.
- Arguing with people in your life about your gambling and/or gambling finances.
- Missing work or school time to gamble.
- Borrowing money from friends, family or your household finances for gambling.
- Using bank loan funds for gambling money.
- Making cash withdrawals from credit cards for gambling money.
- Cashing out stock or bonds for gambling money.
- Selling personal property or possessions for gambling money.
Problem gambling in California
It is estimated that there are more than 1 million problem gamblers in California.
Comparatively, the total number of problem gamblers nationwide is estimated to be between 6-8 million people. That breaks down to a state with 12% of the country’s population and 15% of the problem gambling population.
Another study conducted for the Office of Problem Gambling concluded that a smaller percentage of adults in California, 10%, are at risk for developing gambling problems.
Responsible gambling in California
The state of California provides a variety of resources to help identify and support problem gamblers in the state.
Bureau of Gambling Control
As part of California’s Department of Justice, the Bureau of Gambling Control is a law enforcement authority with jurisdiction over state gambling activities, and it works with the California Gambling Control Commission to regulate the gambling industry in the state.
California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC)
The California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) issues licenses and regulates the gaming activities of the 89 licensed card rooms and 60 licensed tribal casinos in the state of California.
Voluntary self-exclusion from gambling in California
The CGCC also administers a self-exclusion program that allows players to self-exclude themselves from playing at most licensed gambling venues statewide.
California self-exclusion guidelines
- People who choose to self-exclude from gambling in California are banned from all licensed gambling venues in the state, except for tribal casinos and horse racing betting facilities.
- There are two self-exclusion terms:
- One year
- A lifetime
- A one-year, self-exclusion term is irrevocable, meaning gambling privileges cannot be voluntarily reinstated within the one-year timeframe.
- A lifetime self-exclusion term is revocable, meaning that gambling privileges can be voluntarily reinstated. However, the self-exclusion cannot be reinstated until after a one-year timeframe has passed.
- When a self-exclusion form is processed and approved, the player’s information and photo are sent to all card rooms and gambling establishments to add to their blocked lists.
- If someone on the self-exclusion list does go to a card room or gambling establishment, the establishment blocks or removes them and the Bureau of Gambling Control is also notified. If the person gambles before being removed, any winnings or losses are confiscated.
- To reinstate gambling privileges after selecting a lifetime term, a player must submit a self-exclusion removal request form to the state.
How to voluntarily self-exclude from gambling in California:
- Complete a California state self-exclusion form.
- Have the form notarized by a notary public or signed by a witness, which must be a “key employee” at a participating gambling facility.
- Include a recent passport-quality photo.
- Submit the form:
- In-person to any employee at a licensed card room or participating gambling facility.
- Via mail to Bureau of Gambling Control, PO Box 168024, Sacramento, CA 95816-8024
Voluntary self-restriction in California
Unlike statewide self-exclusion options, voluntary self-restriction arrangements can be made with individual card rooms and tribal casinos.
- The state’s voluntary self-restriction form allows people to apply for restrictions from a specific card room or gambling facility instead of a statewide ban. Individual card rooms and tribal casinos may provide their forms as well.
- The self-restriction form allows people to opt for a total restriction (ban) from a card room or gambling facility; or to only be restricted from receiving marketing and promotional materials, playing games or engaging in gaming activity; or to block/limit check cashing and credit privileges.
- The self-restriction term options on the state form are one year or a lifetime. However, individual card rooms may offer more term options.
- The self-restriction term is irrevocable, meaning gambling privileges cannot be voluntarily reinstated within the selected timeframe.
- Self-restriction forms are kept and maintained by each card room or gambling establishment where they are submitted.
The CA’s Office of Problem Gambling
The Office of Problem Gambling (OPG) develops and provides gambling prevention and treatment programs statewide. The OPG provides online resources, free hotlines and free treatment options for people with gambling problems.
OPG online resources
In addition to providing general online education about problem gambling, the OPG provides a free self-help workbook titled “Freedom From Gambling.”
This 44-page PDF includes information, quizzes and homework. You can download the “Freedom From Gambling” workbook here.
The OPG provides 24/7 free support services via phone, text or online chat:
- Call 1-800-GAMBLER
- Text SUPPORT to 53342
- Chat at 800GAMBLER.CHAT
Counseling and treatment
California Gambling Education and Treatment Services (CalGETS) are free and confidential, provided by licensed specialists in gambling disorders. Patients can choose treatment options that best fit their needs.
Treatment options include:
- Outpatient treatment: Free counseling in an office setting for both individual and group therapy sessions.
- Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment: Intended as a bridge between residential and outpatient treatment, this option provides three-hour sessions three days a week. Treatment centers are available in Los Angeles and San Diego.
- Residential care: Patients live at a treatment facility and receive 15 hours of gambling treatment per week. Treatment centers are available in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
California Council on Problem Gambling (CCPG)
The California Council on Problem Gambling (CCPG) is a nonprofit affiliate of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which promotes awareness about problem gambling and provides education, research, prevention and treatment services for gambling issues. CCPG offers resources to problem gamblers as well as their families.
National resources for responsible gambling
In addition to the resources that California provides, responsible gambling resources are also available from national organizations.
- National Council for Problem Gambling (NCPG): This organization provides free 24/7 counseling services via toll-free phone and text at 1-800-522-4700 or via online chat at ncpgambling.org/chat.
- Gamblers Anonymous: Similar to AA, this 12-step, self-help program provides free telephone hotline services nationwide, including California, at 855-2CALLGA (855-222-5542). Gamblers Anonymous also hosts support meetings throughout the state, with more than 200 different meetings currently available in California. They can use a convenient search engine on the Gamblers Anonymous website can find meeting types, schedules and location details.
- Gam-Anon: Similar to Al-Anon, Gamblers Anonymous offers Gam-Anon self-help meetings to support the friends and family of people with gambling addictions.
- GamTalk: This site provides online support for gambling issues through moderated live chats and inspirational stories. The community forum on the site is no longer active, but the forum archives are still available.
The California Lottery was the first state lottery in the US to be awarded a WLA Level Four Award by the World Lottery Association (WLA). This is the highest possible certification level for WLA’s Responsible Gaming Principles programs.
Responsible gambling at California card rooms
The Bureau of Gambling Control works with card rooms in California to encourage responsible gambling. At a minimum, most card room websites provide a link to the Office of Problem Gambling and the state’s toll-free problem gambling hotline number (1-800-GAMBLER). Card rooms also offer self-restriction and self-exclusion options to players.
Responsible gambling at tribal casinos
Many individual tribal casinos promote their responsible gambling practices on their websites. Some tribal casinos provide more extensive responsible gambling standards, resources and services than others, however.
For example, the San Manuel Casino has been awarded the Responsible Gambling Silver Certification from the California Council on Problem Gambling (CCPG) for 12 consecutive years (as of 2019).
Self-exclusion at tribal casinos
Although tribal casinos are exempt from the self-exclusion option available by the state, individual tribal casinos may offer voluntary self-exclusion forms.
Responsible gambling contributions
The California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), a nonprofit organization for tribal governments, states that California tribes donate $8.2 million annually to the OPG to help fund treatment for people with gambling problems.