20 Questions: Do I Have a Gambling Problem, or is it Just Poker?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve known many poker players who are obsessed with the game. They play as much as they can. And when they’re not playing they’re talking about the game. When they’re alone they are thinking about the game – and sometimes even talking to themselves about the game. They listen to podcasts, watch videos, and read articles and books about poker. Sometimes, they even have poker dreams.

Maybe this describes you.

Gambling problem

You may be a problem gambler if … (Image: Flushing Hospital)

The question is, does this mean you have a gambling problem?

I decided to answer the question for myself. So I turned to the experts, checking with Gambler’s Anonymous to see what they had to say on the subject.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gambler’s Anonymous, it’s a longstanding, non-profit group that looks to help problem gamblers address their addiction. They start with 20 questions meant to help people see whether they have a gambling problem. I list those questions below and, in the interests of candor, I share with you my own answers. I then elaborate on each answer to reflect on whether or not I think the simple answer correctly reflects whether or not I’m a problem gambler.


Gambler’s Anonymous survey

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?

No

I’ve scheduled vacation time to play poker. To that extent, I have lost time from work to gamble. Even so, I think the question seeks to reveal whether you stayed away from work because you couldn’t tear yourself away from a gambling session. I’ve never done that, so I answered no to this question, though a more literal answer might have been a yes.

2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

No

I don’t like losing — at anything. So, my mood after a losing session might not have been quite as upbeat as it normally is. Still, I would have to answer no to this question as playing poker has never been the cause of arguments or stress in my family.

3. Did gambling affect your reputation?

No

My reputation is shaped, both positively and negatively, by what I do with my time. Some people may think less of me because I am known to play poker; others might admire me for it. Surely, though, in the spirit of the question, I don’t think I have a bad reputation because I’m a poker player. So I answered no to this question though, once again, a strictly literal answer might be yes.

4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

No

I’ve felt bad about a decision I made at the poker table and there have been times after a large loss when I wished I hadn’t gone to the poker room that day. Even so, remorse requires, first, a conviction that what I did was wrong and then, a feeling of guilt for doing wrong. I don’t believe that playing poker is wrong and I’ve surely never felt guilty about it. So, my answer is an emphatic no.

5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?

No

I suppose, in the strictest sense, my answer might be yes as I have used poker winnings to pay for gifts for my wife (a piano and a car). But I think the question is really looking at whether I’ve risked money I needed to pay bills in the hope of winning big to pay off debts incurred while gambling. The answer to that question is surely no. Poker, for me and for most winning players is, on balance, a source of income and not a gambling proposition. So, my answer is no.

6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?

No

This is a simple no. Playing poker incorporates my ambitious nature into a game of skill. In no way does it decrease either ambition or efficiency

gambling problem t-shirt

Yeah — this isn’t true. (Image: Amazon)

7. After losing, did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?

No

I have the urge to return when I leave after a losing session, just as I have the urge to return after I have a winning session. I don’t feel compelled to come back because of the loss. I like to play; so I want to return.

8. After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

No

My desire to return is independent of my win.

9. Did you often gamble until all your money was gone?

No

I’ve lost my entire stack on many occasions. On a few occasions, I also lost all the money I had brought with me that day. But, I’ve never depleted my poker bankroll nor have I ever gone to an ATM to get more money.

10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

No

I’ve forgotten my poker bankroll a time or two and borrowed money from a friend for a playing session (repaying it immediately). So, technically I have done this. But, I think the question looks to the borrowing that is done when someone goes bust and feels compelled to stay in action — something I have never done. I answered no to this question, though if I were being 100% literal, it would have been a yes.

11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?

No

Back when I first started playing poker in a casino, I sold a collection of comic books to boost my poker bankroll. A strict and literal reading of this question would have me answer in the affirmative. But, I think they’re looking at something else: whether I was ever so broke that I pawned something just to have enough money to get back into action. The answer to that is surely no.

12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?

Yes

My poker bankroll has nearly always been kept strictly for poker. Though I answered yes to this question, I think they are looking at situations where someone has deprived themselves and/or their family of necessities just to finance gambling. This I have never done, nor would ever do.

13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?

No

Never, not even a little.

14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?

Yes

I’ve surely stayed in a game longer than I initially thought I was going to stay because the game was really good and my skills hadn’t diminished. But I’ve never stayed because I felt compelled to stay just so I could get back to even or gamble more.

15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief, or loss?

Yes

Playing poker is recreational. Accordingly, it is a way to escape the worries, troubles, and occasional boredom of my regular working world. I sometimes enjoy it as a holiday from my job and my day-to-day life, much as I enjoy getting away from it all when I go fishing or when I go for a long walk. I don’t think this is problematic, and I have to answer in the affirmative.

pawn stars

(Image: RoyVegas)

16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?

No

Absolutely not. Armed robbery, fraud, and selling drugs aren’t for me, especially when I can get my funds straight from the ATM.

17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?

Yes

I’ve stayed up late in many a poker game, going to bed very late and thereby depriving myself of sleep I might otherwise have gotten.

18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?

No

I enjoy poker irrespective of arguments, disappointments, or frustrations. They don’t create any urge for me to play more.

19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?

No

I enjoy playing poker regardless of whether things are going well or poorly in the rest of my life. I’ve never celebrated good fortune with a few hours of gambling.

20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

No

I don’t like losing. I may be critical of my play, and regret some decisions I made at the table, but losing at poker has never made me feel even slightly self-destructive or suicidal.


Gamblers Anonymous says that if you answered “Yes” to seven of these 20 questions, you have a gambling problem.

I answered “Yes” to four, but I could have answered “Yes” to six additional questions if I was being especially literal, which would have brought my total up to 10, making me a problem gambler.

Truly, though, I think the questions need to be adjusted for poker players, at least for those of us who are professionals or semi-pros. It seems to me that the real test of whether you’re a problem gambler is whether the gambling has a serious and negative impact on your life and that you can’t or won’t stop.

If you started your poker career by selling your motorcycle … or if you stay late in a great game to maximize your wins … or if you’re eager to return to a poker game to make more money … or if poker provides a refuge or respite from your day-to-day life or job … or if you shelter your poker bankroll from your day-to-day expenditures … or if you borrow money to play sometimes … or if some moralistic idiots judge you harshly because you play poker — none of these things mean that you’re a problem gambler in my book.

But then, maybe I’m just a problem gambler in denial!

Seriously, though, if you think you or someone you care about might have a gambling problem, it couldn’t hurt to call the good folks at Gambler’s Anonymous. 1-800-GAMBLER (426-2537).

Written by
Ashley Adams
Venerable grinder, 7-stud enthusiast, host of "House of Cards Radio" and author of Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day (D&B Publishing, 2020).

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