Experts say that as many as 10 million Americans are addicted to gambling. Scientific American reported in 2013 that for twice that many, gambling “seriously interferes with work and social life.” This financially devastating addiction costs Americans billions of dollars each year.
Many gamblers and their families struggle with the consequences of gambling addiction for years – long after they manage to stop betting.
Some of those consequences are financial. That’s why it is imperative to learn how to protect your assets. A little knowledge can help you prevent irreparable financial harm to yourself and your loved ones.
There are many ways to protect personal and family assets when you are dealing with a gambling addiction problem. The best way is to get rid of the addiction itself, but that’s more easily said than done. It takes time, proper help, and personal discipline to tame the addiction.
For many people, it’s an even greater challenge to identify the addiction in the first place. Shame and stigma fuel denial, and a gambling problem is easy to hide until it starts burning through even the most protected assets.
Responsible Gambling vs. Addiction
Gambling isn’t evil. For most people, it can be a rewarding hobby. The problem is that some gamblers can’t control their habits and let the thrill control them instead. Under the thrill’s compulsion, they are liable to make irreversible mistakes with finances and assets.
If you can control your gambling habit, and it never hurts your finances, then it may be the harmless hobby you tell yourself it is. But if you fall down the rabbit hole chasing one elusive win that will set everything right, then you have a gambling problem.
The goal is to be a responsible gambler. That term shouldn’t be confused with responsible gambling, which is a set of practices that gambling businesses and government agencies have adopted to ensure integrity and fairness in gambling.
How to Protect Your Assets
What can you do to protect your assets if you are a gambler?
Let’s start with the notion of liquidity. Liquid assets are cash and other assets that can quickly be converted to cash. That might include stocks and other investments or property that you can pawn, sell, or borrow against: your car, your grandfather’s watch, stuff like that.
It’s difficult to gamble away assets that are hard to liquidate, assets like your home and other properties. But don’t be fooled. Once you are deep in your addiction, protecting your personal assets isn’t a priority anymore. When gamblers are desperate to bet, they find ingenious ways to raise cash. Not all of them are legal. In fact, the correlation between gambling and illegal activities has been proved time and time again. If a gambler is willing to break the law to satisfy a gambling addiction, imagine what they may do to their own assets.
The bottom line is that if your gambling addiction is getting out of control, you may need to take steps to make sure you don’t gamble away the security you have spent a lifetime working for.
Focus on Necessities
The first thing you must do is take care of the necessities. Pay your utility bills, your credit cards, your monthly rent or mortgage payments, and other financial obligations.
This has two effects.
First, it will help you stay ahead of your obligations so you won’t have to borrow money for necessities. (That will protect your credit score too.)
Second, spending a major portion of your income on necessities leaves you less to gamble with. You are likely to be more careful with the rest.
If you are afraid you can’t stick to this plan, automate your payments or ask your spouse or another family member to handle bill-paying for you.
Put Food On The Table
Stock up on groceries as soon as you get paid. And if you live with your spouse or a family member who knows about your addiction, hand over your salary to keep it safe. Keeping money safe is easier if you live with someone you trust knows about your struggle. If you live on your own, use prepaid cards like the Walmart MoneyCard or WEX Fleet Fuel Card. Deposit a monthly sum as soon as you get paid so you will have access to food and fuel.
These two methods work well for gambling addicts who have some measure of control over their habits. For people who have fallen deeper into the depths of gambling addiction, more severe steps may be warranted.
Limit Your Access to Cash
Having cash or easy access to funds is one of the major triggers for gambling addicts. People don’t need to carry cash with them the way they used to, and you don’t need to either.
Start by carrying as little cash as possible – just enough to get you through the day. If you run a cash-heavy business or have a job that requires handling physical money, make sure to get it transferred to your bank account as soon as possible.
Most importantly, choose a credit card that doesn’t have a cash advance option or get that capability blocked by the issuing bank. Cash withdrawals from a credit card are fast and easy. When you feel that cash is burning a hole in your pocket, it’s going to be nearly impossible to resist gambling.
Be Careful With Your Cards
If you have a gambling habit, you ideally shouldn’t have a credit card. Not only does it open up more ways to make a stake, but it adds to your financial vulnerability. If you can, get rid of your credit cards and use debit cards instead. If you think that getting rid of credit cards is too large a step, at least store them someplace inconvenient instead of carrying them in your wallet.
As an addict, you must accept that the best way to protect assets is to isolate yourself from them as much as possible. If you and your spouse have joint credit accounts, remove yourself. When you are going out, leave your cards at home and rely on cash.
Prepaid credit and debit cards are a good way to limit your access to money you need for essentials. Charge them up with only the amount you will need for a night out or a week of coffee and bagels at the office. Leave your credit cards at home and limit your access to cash. You will have enough funds to buy necessary items, but no liquidity to gamble away.
Manage Your Bank Accounts
The next step is to secure your bank accounts and protect them from your addiction.
Start by limiting your daily cash transfer and withdrawal limits and opening a joint bank account with your spouse, another family member, or someone you explicitly trust. Your bank will show you how to impose a dual-signature restriction for access to assets. If your account has overdraft protection, cancel it.
Even if you are a responsible gambler, it makes sense to create a separate bank account to protect your assets. Since you are an addict, it’s essential. It makes you deliberately transfer a limited amount of money from your personal account to your gambling account. If you have imposed the right restrictions on both of these accounts, your access to funds will be severely limited.
Remove yourself from shared accounts that let you withdraw funds on your own and delete the banking app from your phone.
Limit Your Access to Savings and Valuables
As a gambling addict, you shouldn’t have unrestricted access to your savings accounts or emergency funds. If you live on your own, you may want to keep your savings as certificates of deposit or bonds. Your savings and valuables deserve the best asset protection that you can provide because if your addiction runs rampant and destroys your other financial assets, you will need a cushion to fall onto.
Keep your valuables in a safe deposit box or a household safe that you don’t have the combination to. If you are in the habit of wearing expensive watches or jewelry, switch to something more modest. If you receive large amounts of cash, either place them with someone you trust or deposit them into your bank account as soon as possible. Remember: Cash is dangerous. It can tempt you to gamble.
Be Cautious With Online Gambling
Online gambling is getting more and more popular every day. It’s hard to know how to protect your assets with an online casino because it feels disconnected from reality. You know how your character can die over and over in video games? Subconsciously, we learn that what happens on the screen has no real-world consequences. The rush you get and the sadness you feel while gambling are dampened when you’re online. You may need to gamble higher amounts to get the kick you crave.
Install blocking software on your phone and computer. Ask someone you trust to use parental lock software. These steps aren’t foolproof, but even tiny deterrents give you a chance to regain your senses.
These steps can help you manage life a little bit better and ensure better asset protection, but you may be among those who need a helping hand or more stringent measures.
Additionally, read our comprehensive guide on dos and don’ts of gambling.
Reach Out to Friends and Family
If you have a gambling habit and people close to you don’t know about it, they can become inadvertent enablers of your addiction. There is nothing shameful about asking for help when you can’t manage on your own. You don’t need to tell everyone about what you are going through, but you can confide in a few trusted family members or friends.
Not only will they be able to help you with their emotional support, but they can also serve as financial buffers. They will know not to lend you money for gambling. Even if they need to lend you money to pay off financial obligations or make essential purchases, they’re on your side. They can manage your finances with you or for you until you learn how to protect your assets from yourself.
Beyond Family and Friends
Even if you don’t have family members or close friends to help you manage your addiction, you are not on your own. Nonprofit groups and help organizations, many led by the National Council on Problem Gambling, can assist you. Because of their experience with addiction and the resources the organizations bring to bear, they might even be more helpful than your friends and family.
Whether you work with an online counselor or in person, you will get a lot of helpful advice. They can help you with the psychological aspect of addiction as they guide you about asset protection and securing your finances. Even if you have friends and family members you trust enough to confide in, professionals can be very helpful.
Manage Your Debt
Gambling addicts tend to accumulate a painful amount of debt. If you are already at that phase of your addiction and you want to get out, then you should start working on damage control. You have to work with financial professionals or people who help gambling addicts and devise financial strategies to help you learn how to protect your assets. This may include managing your debt, creating a repayment plan, or using your savings to clear off the highest-interest debt.
That last option should be taken with extreme care, as untethered access to large sums of money can trigger your addiction. You can also ask your mortgage lender or bank to prevent you from remortgaging your property. And don’t forget to cut off your lines of credit. If you are already in debt, that means your credit score might be falling, and that’s always bad news.
If your addiction and the debt you have accumulated have gotten so bad you need someone to help with protecting your personal assets from yourself, it may be time for drastic measures. These could include asking someone you trust to accept legal charge of your assets and property.
It’s important to understand that gambling debt isn’t always immediately apparent. As a compulsive gambler, you may have accumulated debt by borrowing against your assets, getting a personal loan, or selling off property.
All of this can lead to a problem so big it can be solved only by filing for bankruptcy. Before you reach that point, seek help.
Learning how to protect your assets is imperative for problem gamblers. Dealing with an addiction is hard enough. If you have to do it while rebuilding your finances, it’s even harder. So the moment you realize you have a problem, start protecting your savings and assets. And get the help you need right away.
Once you have sufficiently isolated yourself from your finances and you know you can’t financially ruin yourself gambling, you can start working on your addiction.