Growing Concerns Regarding Gambling Addiction on US Army Bases

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The spread of sports betting across the United States has given millions of Americans access to legal wagering. However, this expansion has raised concerns about the potential negative impacts of excessive betting and gambling addiction. While young adults are often more prone to developing gambling problems, individuals who experience high levels of daily stress are also at risk.

A recent report in the UK press reveals that the US military operates over 3,000 slot machines in various countries worldwide. Despite a ban on slot gambling on military bases in the 1950s, the activity returned in the 1980s under the belief that it would help keep troops occupied and out of trouble.

Soldiers Showing Signs of Addiction

The combination of gambling and stress has proven problematic, with some soldiers already showing signs of gambling addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling, an American nonprofit organization focused on gambling-related issues, estimates that around 56,000 military personnel may suffer from a gambling disorder. Nationally, about 1% of the population is affected by problem gambling, a figure that aligns with the Council’s data for the military.

The US military’s slot machines generate over $100 million annually. These funds support various welfare and recreational programs on military bases, including golf courses, movie theaters, and other amenities for service members.

Despite the revenue generated, the military does not invest in gambling harm prevention or education. The report highlighted the story of a 57-year-old former sergeant who experienced severe gambling addiction. His first encounter with slot machines occurred in Seoul, Korea, after being stationed there post-9/11. His addiction quickly escalated, leading to job loss, significant debt, and divorce.

The former sergeant spent years overcoming his addiction and rebuilding his life. Reflecting on the military culture that encourages self-reliance and problem-solving, he acknowledged the difficulty of quitting gambling. He emphasized the danger of trying to recover losses, particularly when combined with a "warrior mentality," describing it as "gambling addiction on steroids."

Gambling Addiction Not Treated as Mental Health Problem

The former sergeant pointed out that problem gambling is not treated as a mental health issue or addiction but rather as a financial and disciplinary problem.

Now free from his addiction, the 57-year-old advocates for awareness about the dangers of gambling. He has cleared his debts, resolved family issues, and remarried.

Concerns about gambling addiction in the military are not limited to the US. Recently, Ukrainian soldiers were banned from gambling following new measures approved by President Volodymyr Zelensky. These measures, aimed at protecting military personnel, prohibit all forms of gambling, both online and offline, during the ongoing martial law in Ukraine.

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