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Problem gambling prevention and early intervention

What is problem gambling? 

  • Problem gambling is a behavioral health addiction that causes disruption in any major area of life, including relationships with others (family, friends, loved ones), school or work, and can lead to negative financial, mental health, and even physical health impacts. The most serious form of the condition is called ‘gambling disorder’ (DSM 5).
  • Individuals with a gambling addiction are highly likely to have one or more additional behavioral health issues, such as substance use and/or a mental health condition (co-occurring disorders). Studies show a range from 65-95 percent, depending on the specific population.
  • For a person with a gambling disorder, it’s estimated that around 8-10 additional people will be negatively impacted within their life, such as spouses, kids, parents, friends and other loved ones, and potentially work, school, and/or community members.
  • People diagnosed with a gambling disorder are at significantly higher risk for suicidality (6-15 times the risk of the general population, depending on specific risk factors). For example, studies have shown that veterans with PTSD and a gambling disorder are at one of the greatest risks for suicidality and attempts of all higher-risk groups.

Addressing problem gambling and gambling disorder is a state priority.  

  • Although a majority of people can gamble without concerns, the 2021 WA State Adult Problem Gambling Prevalence Study showed that 1.5 percent of all adults (3.5 percent of those who gamble) will develop a gambling disorder, and 7.5 percent (17 percent of those who gamble) are at an increased risk for problem gambling.
  • The 2021 WA State Adult Problem Gambling Prevalence Study estimates that approximately 90,000 WA adult residents are at a moderate-to-severe risk for problem gambling/gambling disorder. Another 400,000 adult residents are estimated to be at a lower (but not zero) risk for problem gambling. This lower-risk group is important to consider when developing early interventions for problem gambling.

Youth problem gambling in Washington State: 

  • Young people who start gambling by age 12 are at four times the risk of developing a gambling disorder later in life.
  • One in eleven 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students reported gambling at least once in the past year (Healthy Youth Survey, 2021).
  • Among students who gambled, one in six reported having problems at home, school, or with friends (Healthy Youth Survey, 2021).


Beginning in July 2023, in response to the increasing opportunities for gambling in WA State, the State Problem Gambling Program, within the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR), is expanding prevention messaging and activities for problem gambling and gambling disorder:

  • Development of a statewide prevention framework to be implemented beginning in 2024-2025
  • Launch of a new Problem Gambling Prevention Workgroup (PGPW) to support development of the new statewide problem gambling prevention framework (Fall/Winter 2023)
  • Inclusion of problem gambling prevention framework in future statewide prevention plans (in coordination with the Statewide Prevention Enhancement (SPE) Consortium)
  • Development of a problem gambling toolkit for prevention professionals (2023-2025)
  • Additional funding for problem gambling prevention messaging and activities, with a focus on populations shown to be at a significantly higher risk for problem gambling/gambling disorder due to impacts of social and economic determinants of health (such as a lack of access to quality health care and education, financial stability, secure housing and nutrition, and a healthy neighborhood environment)
  • Future grant-based projects focusing on integrating screening for problem gambling with other behavioral health screenings and assessments
  • Expanded clinical workforce development to increase the numbers and availability of certified gambling counselors and state-certified problem gambling agencies
  • HCA provides funding to the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling for the annual Problem Gambling Awareness Month campaign in March.
  • Future planning includes integrating problem gambling prevention messaging with other behavioral health efforts at HCA, with a focus on youth and young adults.

View the mental health resources in The Athena Forum community library.

Roxane Waldron, MPA
State Problem Gambling Program Manager
Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery
WA State Health Care Authority