By Robert L. Stenander
Pathological gambling is often called a hidden disease. It cannot be detected
by breath or blood tests, nor does it leave needle marks. It may be a means of
escaping from difficulties in marriage or work and many times will go unnoticed
as a significant problem. High risk is a key part of the gamegamblers bet
discovery, humiliation, and ultimately their lives.
Gambling addiction is a disorder of impulse control and is as debilitating as
alcohol or drugs. The disorder (the terms “pathological gambling” and
“compulsive gambling” may be used interchangeably) is chronic and progressive
yet diagnosable and treatable, often through intervention programs and
attending Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meetings.
The following 20 questions are asked of new GA attendees and are appropriate
for anyone: men, women, lawyers, associates, clients, and friends. Pathological
gamblers usually answer yes to at least seven of the questions and often many
more. If an individual has trouble answering the questions truthfully, this
denial is another sign that gambling has become a problem.
Have you ever lost time from work owing to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible to win back your
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance your gambling?
Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself and your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within you an urge to
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate good fortune with a few hours of
Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your
Lawyers in particular should remember that they have been trained to deal with
problems and develop their “gut feeling” that something is wrong long before a
case starts heading south. This instinct, although usually pushed aside and
denied, is the same one that tells them that they have a gambling problem well
before it becomes apparent to others. Lawyers just like other pathological
gamblers follow the same progression as their addiction develops. They
experience the same highs, become preoccupied with gambling, lose control,
experience withdrawals, and finally become impaired just like an alcoholic or a
Money is the key to action and excitement for gamblers. For the lawyer with
access to cash, trust accounts, and fiduciary/confidential relationships, the
result can be devastating, no matter how “good” a person the lawyer may be. All
lawyers have stories about law school and the bar exam—how hard they had to
work to achieve the license to practice law. Lawyers who embezzle (or as some
try to put it, “borrow” or “take a loan from the trust account”) can just kiss
that license good-bye.
Although it may seem like the odds are against them, pathological gamblers can
be treated, and crossing the line into pathology can be prevented by early
intervention. Keep in mind that this information applies to clients as well.
The lawyer who meets with a client with financial problems—usually credit card
debt and outstanding loans from family and friends—should consider whether this
indicates a potential gambling problem. Suggesting legal solutions like
bailouts, refinancing, and/or bankruptcy will not help a true gambler and most
frequently allows the gambler to re-enter the action with new vigor-not to
mention fresh funds. Lawyers should watch for the following warning signs; if
you notice several of these behaviors, you’re quite likely looking at a
gambling addict rather than an unfortunate debtor.
Excessive telephone use
A pattern of borrowing money
Boastful behaviors regarding gambling winnings
Signs of gambling paraphernalia such as racing forms, football pool cards,
detailed sports data
Mood swings-often the manifestation of winning and loosing periods
Discomfort when discussing money or financial management
Patterns of binge shopping and spending
Problems with personal relationships
Unusual eagerness to promote activities with and participate in betting
If these signs sound familiar or suggest a specific individual— even
yourself—knowing where to turn will make intervention that much more likely.
Lawyers have a moral, ethical, and professional duty to assist with wise
counsel, whether to benefit themselves, the bar, or a client. Suggested “first
steps” include the following:
Ask the individual to agree to a professional assessment of his or her gambling
status, done by a certified gambling specialist.
Suggest the individual become involved in GA or a 12-step program such as
Debtors Anonymous or Emotions Anonymous.
Research on compulsive gambling published by Harvard Medical School is
available at www.thewager.org.
Contact your state’s Lawyers Assistance Program for guidance and referral
suggestions. (Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program: 615-741-3238 or toll free,
Below are additional steps to consider, perhaps, once treatment has begun and
the gambler is more willing to honestly address the financial ramifications of
his or her addiction:
Suggest the gambler get a financial counselor—one who also is knowledgeable
about the addiction. Look in the yellow pages under credit and debt counseling
services or ask a local GA group member for recommendations.
Suggest the individual hire an independent accountant to manage and control the
This article first appeared in GP Solo magazine, January/ February 2004, Volume
21, Number 1 and is reprinted with permission of the ABA. © American Bar