Attorney’s Guide to
For Attorneys, Judges, Prosecutors and Court Personnel
How Can You Identify Someone with a Gambling Addiction?
Review of Financial Information
As you review financial information, you may note patterns that suggest a gambling problem. For example, you may see multiple withdrawals that form a suspicious narrative or you may see that multiple credit cards are at their limit. Further investigation may determine whether a gambling issue is present.
An attorney or the trustee could note assets or an unexpected lack thereof and suspect that a gambling addiction could play a role. The presence of a gambling problem may become very relevant in moving a case forward.
When it’s time to divide up marital assets, one spouse will likely notice that the money he/she thought was there, is not. There could also be joint credit card debt that one spouse is not aware of, as well as unexpected loans, wiped out college savings, an equity line of credit, etc. A lawyer might also see incomplete information or the reluctance of a spouse to be forthcoming. The spouse of a problem gambler may be embarrassed or ashamed.
Child Neglect/Abuse and Domestic Violence
People with a gambling addiction focus all their attention on gambling and may neglect responsibilities to their families. An extreme example is someone leaving their child in the car at a casino while they are inside gambling. Those persons accused or charged with neglect or violence should be referred for a gambling assessment and a substance use assessment.
Alcohol or Other Drug Addiction
In some cases, a person will switch addictions. For example, they may stop drinking but instead start gambling as a substitute. One study of people with substance use disorder published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases concluded that roughly 20 percent of study participants had significant gambling problems or had had such problems at some point in their past.
Suicide attempts may suggest an underlying gambling problem. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one in five problem gamblers attempts to kill themselves, a rate that’s about twice that of other addictions. When a financial crisis occurs, those with a gambling addiction and high gambling debts believe there is no way out and their hopelessness drives them to contemplate and attempt suicide.
A guardian or conservator for an elderly person might discover unusually frequent trips to the casino or a surprising lack of funds. A criminal defense attorney might discover the problem when representing a client on a variety of crimes (not only theft or embezzlement, although those would be major clues; a prosecutor might notice this as well). An employment lawyer might notice a gambling problem in the context of representing a person who is being terminated for under performance or repeated absences.
Did you know that lawyers are at high risk for problem gambling?
Here are some reasons why lawyers are at risk.
- Lawyers are often risk takers.
- Risks are often amply rewarded. Success in a high-risk case may result in increasingly risky choices and behaviors.
- Lawyers may gamble to escape the trauma they’ve endured and experienced with their clients or to otherwise cope with the stress of the profession.
- Lawyers have access to settlement proceeds, retainers and other funds that they may access inappropriately in extreme cases.
- Lawyers are among the most likely professionals to suffer from stress and depression, which plays a role in the development of problem gambling behavior.
- Alcohol misuse and dependency is twice as prevalent among attorneys compared to non-attorneys. This addiction leaves them at risk for “co-occurring addictions,” such as gambling addiction.
If you have concerns about your own gambling, contact Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) at 866-525-6466 or www.mnlcl.org. LCL provides free, confidential peer and professional assistance to Minnesota lawyers, judges, law students, and their immediate family members on any issue that causes stress or distress.
It’s important that those in the legal field become educated about gambling addiction so they can consider whether a gambling problem might be at the root of criminal activity. With appropriate screening and assessment, such problems can be better diagnosed.
For first-time offenders with a gambling problem, referral to treatment may be appropriate. The state of Minnesota offers treatment for gambling addiction at no cost.
What is Problem Gambling?
Virtually anyone is at risk for problem gambling. Problem gambling plays no favorites when it comes to sex, age, education, religion, race or socio-economic background. People may become addicted to gambling regardless of the game they choose: horse racing, pull tabs, bingo, lottery, casino games, online gambling and fantasy sports.
If You Suspect Your Client May Have a Gambling Problem, What Should You Do?
If there’s reason to suspect that there may be a gambling problem, a simple screening tool, consisting of two questions, can lead to a conversation about gambling addiction:
- Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
- Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gamble?
The answer to those two questions can initiate a deeper discussion of the gambling behavior and guide you to seek a more comprehensive gambling assessment for your client.
How Can You Help the Spouse of a Problem Gambler?
Problem Gambling is Treatable
Let your client know that assistance is available. Start by referring them to the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-333-4673 (HOPE). Available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the helpline offers free, confidential help from counselors trained in crisis intervention. Anyone can call the helpline about their own gambling or their concern for someone else.