Gambling is a fun activity. If you’ve ever put a single Rand on a slot, you know how anxious you get when the slot is spinning, and you always chase that rush of dopamine you feel when you win big time. It’s no wonder a lot of South Africans love gambling. Unfortunately, some love it too much.

The sad truth is, not all gamblers can control their hobby. In some odd cases, the hobby controls the gambler, not the other way around. The gambler forgets about everything else in the world except the slots, and their hobby consumes everything. It becomes the one and only focus of their lives.

While we may proudly claim that something like this will never touch us because we have enough willpower to keep our demons at bay, most South African gamblers know at least one person who had had problems with gambling. Perhaps, not a compulsive gambler, but someone who was dangerously close to being that.

If that gambler is somebody you deeply care about or maybe it’s you who’s walking on the edge, read this article. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about problem gambling, the tell-tale signs that show a problem gambler, and find South African organizations that can help you fight addiction.

Causes of Gambling Addiction

If we knew the one reason that causes gambling addiction, we’d stop it a long time ago, and everybody would have the freedom to enjoy gambling without any problem. But it’s more complicated than that.

There is no single thing you can point out that leads a perfectly normal individual to become an addict. However, science does give up plenty of clues as to what factors accompany problem gambling. There isn’t a wide consensus just yet on whether these factors cause addiction or go hand in hand with it, but one thing we know for sure. If you’re in either of these groups, you’re in the risk zone.

Biological reasons

There are two main factors that contribute to human development, nature and nurture. Put simply, these are your genetic information, what you inherit from your parents, and your upbringing, what your parents teach you. Now, you may think that if you raise the kids the right way, they will never become alcoholics, compulsory gamblers or any other type of addict.

However, it’s not always entirely true. In many factors, genetics play a big role. One huge genetic factor is mental health issues.

Some mental problems can be acquired during childhood or even adulthood, like PTSD. You get into a bad car accident, and you start physically shaking when you approach your car. But you can fix that with therapy.

Other mental health issues are genetic to some extent. For instance, you can’t develop ADHD, OCD, or bipolar disorder, you can only trigger them if you have a genetic predisposition. There’s nothing you can do about it but go to the doctor and start taking medication.

If you don’t, one of your problems may be gambling. People with the mental health problems listed above are overrepresented in problem gambling statistics. Often, they go untreated and can’t really control their behavior when it comes to gambling.

Two other biological factors that are highly correlated with gambling addiction are age and sex. If you’re young and male, you’re far more likely to develop an addiction to gambling. Young people are especially vulnerable because their brains are not fully developed and they didn’t have enough negative experiences in life to make them think about risk first and reward second.

Perhaps this is why if you see a problem gambler in South Africa, the odds are it’s a young man.

Personality type

Not only people who have mental health problems struggle with gambling addiction. Some types of people are just more prone to getting addicted than others. Workaholics, especially the high-ranking ones or the ones who deal in sales, are prone to becoming compulsive gamblers. Come to think of it, waiting for a lead to respond to your sales offer produces the same feelings as waiting for a slot to turn.

People who tend to act impulsively or to become easily bored with anything they take part in also are in the danger zone. The last personality type is competitive people. These are mostly drawn to table games as these require more skill and when a very competitive person with an ego sets out to prove something to the people at the table, it can become a financial disaster.


We don’t always talk about depression in South Africa. For many people, the attitude towards depression is “it’s just in your head, get over it.” Unfortunately, it’s not a feasible option for some people who developed depression.

When you get severely depressed, your brain stops producing the right amounts of happy hormones, leaving you physically unable to get over it. Since depression is rarely discussed, and a young man who finds himself depressed is not encouraged to speak up and share his emotional state, often, they start looking for help elsewhere. They develop coping mechanisms instead of dealing with the problem.

One of the most widespread coping mechanisms is substance abuse. Depressed people start drinking or taking drugs because it’s the only thing that makes them feel good. Gambling can become a toxic coping mechanism for the same reason.

If you find that you’re not gambling because it’s a fun thing to do but because it’s the only fun thing in your life, you may need help.

Substance abuse

A person who is in a very dark place and is suffering from depression and loneliness doesn’t just take one coping mechanism. Often, they go all-in and do everything from drinking to gambling to make themselves feel good.

Consider the fact that you can’t really control your actions when under the influence, and you get a perfect recipe for disaster.

Child exposure

As you already know, young people are in the danger zone when it comes to gambling. They can’t weigh the risks against the rewards and may end up getting addicted. The scientific evidence we have today suggests it goes deeper than that. If a person becomes addicted as a minor, they may have hard time recovering from addiction and probably will carry that problem well into adulthood.

This is why the main focus of all problem gambling prevention programs is making sure no South African kids have access to casinos.

Symptoms of gambling addiction

Gambling addiction is hard to shake off, just like any other addiction you can develop. The easiest way to fight addiction is to spot the tell-tale signs early on and react before it’s too late. If you’re afraid you or your loved ones are developing a case of compulsory gambling, check with this list to see if you’re right.

If a person has one or more symptoms mentioned on this list, it’s bad news. They’re probably developing an addiction or are already addicted. Here are the signs you need to be on the lookout for.

Preoccupation with gambling

South Africans may love to gamble, but in its core, South Africa is a Christian nation. More than 70% of the country believes in God and puts their family first. No hobby, even a hobby as entertaining as gambling, is going to change that.

However, as a person who is in the danger zone gambles more and more, they may not realize how fast the tables can turn on them. Sooner than they can realize, gambling is all they really care about. It’s constantly in their thoughts and every bit of money they earn is not going towards the next trip abroad or to their kids’ college fund. It’s going to be spent on gambling.

Low-rolling isn’t fun anymore

As an average gambler, you may spend a hundred Rands on spinning slots here or there, but you don’t go crazy about it. After all, you have bills to pay and a life to live. A problem gambler can’t operate like that.

They quickly get used to the thrill they get when they bet one Rand at a time. A bet of one Rand becomes a hundred, and even that fun fades away. A compulsive gambler is constantly chasing the feeling they got when they risked their first Rand, and that feeling escapes them.

They bet more and more, which can’t but lead to financial ruin because you can’t keep winning forever.

You’ll cover the losses

Since a compulsive gambler keeps on betting more and more, they inevitably lose more than they can afford. With huge debt, they don’t reevaluate their behavior and stop. They keep on gambling in hopes to pay the debt.

As you may imagine, a person who can’t control their behavior so much they ended up in debt they can’t settle is very unlikely to win back the lost funds. This search for luck only drives them deeper into debt.

Irritable when not gambling

Problem gambling is an addiction. Just like an alcoholic has withdrawal when they stop drinking, a gambler has withdrawal when they stop gambling. If you decide to stop gambling for a while and you feel irritated at everything and everyone, physically shaky, and constantly shuffling your feel or biting lips, you’re having a withdrawal.

It’s a pretty solid sign you have a gambling addiction because you can’t handle living without gambling. You feel bad when you stop doing what you thought was just a hobby and a fun pastime. If that’s your situation, you’d better look for help before you relapse and start gambling compulsively again.

Nobody knows about the problem

A huge tell-tale sign of any addiction is the addict’s refusal to talk about it or to recognize they’re having a problem. Most problem gamblers are ashamed of spending money that should go into the family on gambling. Even though they may deny it, deep down they know they’re not doing the right thing by spending thousands of Rands on slots and then losing all the wins because they were unable to stop.

They won’t tell about this to their wives and friends but will deny it’s a problem. All I need is just one big win, and everything is going to be okay again, thinks the addict.

Piling up debt

How do relatives and friends find out about the addiction if the person who’s addicted doesn’t talk about it? They start seeing debt. You notice that your friend is asking for money third time in a row and doesn’t seem like giving it back any time soon. You check your joint account with your husband and you see his credit cards overdraft. You notice they start getting phone calls that can only be coming from a loan shark.

Then, you know your friend is up to no good. With the appetite for gambling rising uncontrollably, a compulsive gambler will do anything to get gambling money, even put their family’s finances in danger.

Stages of gambling addiction

If you’re over 18 (and if you’re not, you should leave this website), you know that drinking one beer doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Even if you get really drunk once, you don’t become an alcoholic. You understand this is not the way you want to go in life and look for other pleasures.

A gambling addict doesn’t become addicted from the first spin of the wheel either. It’s the process they go through slowly, but one that surely leads to financial failure and despair.

The winning stage

Once a person who is the in the danger zone of gambling discovers this hobby, they’re having a blast. They gamble a lot and win a lot. This makes them think they can win all the time. If the person is in a bad period of their life, gambling may be the only thing that keeps their spirit up, so it’s not long before they start getting hooked.

The losing stage

As the appetite for gambling grows, so grow the stakes. An addict cannot enjoy gambling with an R10 bet. They need to bet more and more. When you’re betting thousands Rands a spin, you will soon find out that it’s easy to lose them all at once.

During this stage, compulsive gambler starts to realize they’re not in control. Often, they get in debt.

The desperation stage

Any regular South African would learn their lesson and stop making gambling the pinnacle of their life. Not the compulsive gambler. They can’t control themselves anymore and will do anything to stay in the game.

At this stage, however, a problem gambler understands there’s something wrong with them. They’re in debt and are trying to get out of it by gambling. They try to stop but fail.

The hopeless stage

If nothing helped the gambler during the previous three stages of addiction, they hit rock bottom. They’re in massive debt now, their families are gone, and they have nothing to live for. There are only two ways that product gamblers go from this stage: bounce back to life or try to take their own lives.

How to gamble safely?

You don’t want to get to the last stage of gambling addiction. If anything, you don’t even want to get to the first stage. That is possible, here’s what you need to do to make sure you’re gambling in a safe way.

How to prevent gambling addiction

What if you see that you’re already having a range of symptoms that can only be described as compulsory gambling? It’s not all lost for you! Here’s what you can do to make sure you’re not endangering yourself or your loved ones.

If you’re in a bad period of your life, it’s better to talk to your family for support than to try to solve your problems with gambling.

What casinos are doing to help prevent problem gambling

The attitude South African officials have towards gambling is that casinos are the bad guys. After all, don’t they profit from all those people who have problem gambling issues? The truth is, casinos are no more culprits than the bars. Just like a bar serves drinks to responsible drinkers and will call a taxi for the guy who’s visibly too drunk, casinos try to prevent the ills of gambling.

All South African casinos require you to prove your age to make sure no underage South Africans are gambling at the establishment. While it’s hard for SA casinos to do their fair share legally, plenty of casinos in the UK voluntarily contribute money towards problem gambling research and prevention.

Protecting children from gambling addiction

As you now know, getting addicted to gambling as a child or as a young adult can mean you’ll be addicted to it well into your adult life. This can be life breaking for many people. This is why the main focus of all organizations and government policies is keeping kids away from the casinos.

This is why every casino in South Africa would ask you for ID before you can make a deposit. The UK officials are now making the advertising laws more strict to make sure no kids even see casino advertising, let alone play at one.

Where can I get help in South Africa?

Do you think you or your friend is a gambling addict in need of serious help? Don’t waste your time, contact these international organizations to get a free consultation.

If you need an organization from South Africa to have a personal meeting, contact the ones on this list.

If you got yourself in debt, ask these organizations for help with paying it off.

Get help from your friends and loved ones and don’t forget that you can overcome addiction.