Is Problem Gambling Linked to Active Duty Military Personnel?

Life in the military is not only physically demanding but also mentally draining. Active duty military personnel experience long hours of training and harsh work conditions, and then they have several hours of downtime with very few options for entertaining themselves. It’s not surprising then that gambling is a popular pastime for soldiers.

However, statistics show that military gambling is a serious issue. In fact, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimated that about 56,000 active military members in 2019 could have been classified as problem gamblers. Statistics like these ask us to examine the relationship between active duty and gambling behaviors. Why do soldiers gamble, and is there any hope for their future? (The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey explores this issue in a blog – view at

Why Are Military Service Members Prone to Develop Gambling Problems?

There are several reasons active service members are at risk of developing gambling problems. A few of these reasons include:

Access to Gambling Opportunities

Service members all over the world are exposed to a number of gambling opportunities. On top of that, there are very few other things they can do to completely escape from their lives and socialize with base members. Currently, there are over 3,000 slot machines on overseas military bases that are used to generate revenue and boost morale. However, military gambling isn’t limited to just slot machines. Active duty military personnel now have access to online casino sites through their mobile phones and can play any range of games for “quick and easy” cash.

A Feeling of Boredom or Loneliness

Living on an overseas military base can greatly reduce the number of activities a soldier can participate in and limit the number of people they can interact with. When they are on standby, active duty service members have time to miss their families, friends, and the activities they used to do back home.

As soon as they feel the crushing weight of loneliness or boredom, they turn to any activity they hope will take their minds off what they’re missing. Unfortunately, this activity may be some form of gambling. While it may make them feel better in the moment, it could lead to mental health issues and financial ruin.

A Lack of Money

When an active service member needs more money for themselves or their family, they have very few options for earning a higher income. The allure of winning money while gambling pulls in many active duty personnel. However, gambling to make a living can be a slippery slope. There’s no guarantee of a win, and it’s all too common for people to spend more than they make while gambling. In fact, the rates of filing bankruptcy are much higher among those who gamble than in the general population.

The Thrill of Winning Big

Many military personnel have a proclivity for risk and adventure. When soldiers feel bored or anxious, they may participate in gambling activities to achieve a sense of excitement. The risk of loss combined with the thrill of possibly winning big encourages service members to place bets again and again, even if they are on a losing streak.

Barriers to Treatment

Even though studies show that gambling disorders are common and destructive among active duty military personnel, very few are getting help. Why is this? Military service members are not seeking treatment because:

  • The military does not provide annual screenings for gambling disorders
  • Service members are worried about possibly losing their security clearance or receiving a dishonorable discharge
  • They’re concerned about their confidentiality being protected when seeking services
  • There is a stigma and sense of shame associated with asking for help

Is There Help Available?

Gambling problems among active military personnel can result in a lack of focus and detrimentally ruin their careers. Even veterans are susceptible to developing gambling disorders that could negatively affect their lives after service.

Fortunately, all hope is not lost! If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling problem, you can seek help right away by joining Gambler’s Anonymous meetings in NJ or calling 1-800-GAMBLER. Learn the early warning signs of problem gambling, and get help before your life is thrown off course.


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