⚫ Coping with a loved one's gambling habit can be very distressing, experts say

⚫ Families are advised to NOT bail out a problem gambler, in most cases

⚫ A new generation of addiction may erupt with the popularity of online wagering

Christine Paladino made her last bet on Dec. 16, 2017, the same day she learned she was being investigated for the theft of over $40,000 from the fire department where she had served as a volunteer.

Now she works to limit the number of people in New Jersey who are backed into a corner by a gambling addiction and may feel forced to make some drastic decisions.

Experts fear the threat of addiction is much greater in 2024 compared to just a few years ago, with the option to bet on sports and casino games right at everyone's fingertips — and legally.

"Problem gambling can put a terrible strain on relationships," said Paladino, a prevention specialist with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

Christina Paladino, prevention specialist with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ)
Christina Paladino, prevention specialist with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ)

Paladino made her comments during a CCGNJ webinar on Friday, which focused advice toward the loved ones of problem gamblers, rather than the gamblers themselves.

According to the personal finance website WalletHub, New Jersey is the sixth-most "gambling addicted" state in the nation. The analysis measured 20 metrics, including lottery sales per capita, the legality of sports betting, and the presence of gambling counselors.

Addressing a problem gambler

Unlike other addictions, gambling issues may not be so easy for family members to spot. There are no real physical tells. Gamblers get their "high" from a big win, or from the anticipation of hitting the jackpot.

Loved ones who become aware of one's issue — perhaps because the problem gambler hit rock bottom financially — may struggle to regain trust and focus on moving forward, but it's a necessary step in the recovery process, experts say.

"It is so important to try to separate the disorder that you absolutely despise from the person you absolutely love," said Leonard Brazer, treatment coordinator with CCGNJ.

Communication breakdowns are bound to occur, experts say. Individuals can look for professional help if working through the issue in-house seems to be too much to handle.

Gam-Anon, which has regular meetings in multiple New Jersey locations, offers an outlet for people who've been impacted by someone else's gambling disorder.

According to experts, loved ones of gamblers should not "try to take the responsibility on themselves." Particularly, the solution is not to just pay off the gambler's debts (as long as one's life isn't in danger).

"That is not going to help them. Allow them to take responsibility for their behavior," Paladino said.

In 2023, New Jersey launched an effort that tracks players' online gaming habits for signs of addiction. In certain instances, players may be blocked from making wagers until they acknowledge the state's efforts to help.

And problem gamblers in New Jersey no longer have to make in-person visits to a casino in order to be blocked from making a bet. There are a couple remote options for individuals who want to self exclude.

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