Gambling is an activity that sways people’s emotions from high to low in a matter of moments.

People participate in this form of entertainment for a thrill and with the hope of winning big. Stories of people placing their last chip or relying on the final play while waging high stakes are everywhere. According to the Gateway Foundation, the Black community emulates those circumstances the most as they are twice as likely to develop a gambling disorder as white people.

The University of Central Los Angeles launched a gambling studies program. Students and faculty in the program observe the visible and nonvisible signs of someone developing a gambling addiction. Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatry professor and co-director of the program, shares information that answers questions like, ‘What drives a person to gamble until there is no more left?’ ‘At what point does recreational betting become damaging?’

“My message to people is if you are no longer having fun or making your life better because of your gambling, that’s the time to seek professional help and guidance to determine whether or not you have a gambling problem,” Fong says.

UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program is a clinical research program created to examine the cause of gambling disorders and develop scientific methods to solve them. Based on their research, there are three factors – genetics, psychological and social factors – that determine how much someone is at risk of developing a gambling disorder. Suppose someone has a family history of gambling if they already deal with depression or if they start gambling at a young age. All of these can lead to problems in the future.

“It’s often men and women who have a family history of gambling addiction (who)  develop a gambling disorder. Secondly, men and women with untreated psychiatric conditions, like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and other active substance disorders, will be more vulnerable to gambling addiction. Lastly, this is very interesting, on the social side are men and women who start gambling at a very young age. The earlier you start gambling and the more frequently you start gambling does elevate your risk of developing a gambling addiction.” Fong says.

Through research, Fong and his team discovered that the Black community has the highest risk of developing a gambling disorder. They also have the lowest rate of treatment for gambling disorders. 

Fong’s research and data is based in California where he conducted the study.  He explains that most counselors and psychotherapists are unaware of other elements within the Black community that are connected to gambling.  Additionally, lack of messaging and proper engagement also  factor in why this group of people hasn’t received appropriate preventative care.

“It’s the same story you see with a lot of other mental health issues for Black communities – (they) don’t come to treatment, don’t seek treatment, are highly stigmatized, may not have a very diverse workforce – all that stuff that you see over and over,combined with communities of color that are disproportionately affected,” Fong says.

Their research is more vital now because more states in the nation are legalizing sports betting and gambling. Thirty states have legalized gambling since the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018. It is currently illegal to gamble or do sports betting in Georgia. The only types of gambling permitted are lottery betting, bingo games, and raffles.

Gambling addiction is hard to spot, Fong says. Some of his patients are functioning, productive people who can’t stop thinking about gambling. The part of our brains that tells us to stop is altered for those with an addiction.

Some recognizable signs include withdrawal from normal activities, neglecting responsibilities,being deceitful and lying in conversations regarding finances. 

“I’ve never had a patient with an addiction say ‘I wanted to develop this condition.’ Just like cancer, no one ever says they want it. When they develop the symptom – which is inability to stop despite harmful consequences – that is the same symptom as a chest pain for heart attack, or weight loss or cancer, or shortness of breath from asthma,.” Fong says. 

Cryptocurrency is the next space to keep an eye out for gambling disorders. Fong suggests financial technology trading is essentially like gambling with addictive qualities that are identical to those of a gambling disorder. They are pouring money into the market in hopes of increasing their investment tenfold, borrowing money from friends and family, and the inability to stop trading despite harmful consequences, he says.

“I had a patient recently who’s never set foot inside a casino but lost about $80,000 to online financial trading software. When the market rattles up and down, his balance goes up and down. He does the same actions and shows the same symptoms as a person with a gambling disorder,” Fong says.

Visit to learn more about gambling disorders and their many forms.