Concern rises over gambling crisis embedded in US military system
Concern rises over gambling crisis embedded in US military system
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Concerns are rising over a growing gambling crisis within the US military, with few resources available to help those at risk.

A 2021 study showed that US military servicepeople were twice as likely to become ‘problem gamblers‘ than the general public, among other risks such as suicide ideation. While that’s a stark statistic, it’s perhaps less surprising alongside the fact that the US military itself operates more than 3,000 slot machines on bases in 12 countries, as reported in The Guardian, despite slot machines being banned on US bases.

This number of slot machines has been reduced from 8,000 slots in 94 countries in 1999, according to the Pentagon. However, a culture of gambling is still firmly embedded in military culture, ranging from the machines to the chance games on bases. Service members as young as 18 can participate.

“I’m walking around and find a casino-style slot machine room,” 57-year-old former sergeant Dave Yeager told The Guardian. “As soon as I sat down, the first thing I noticed was that my shoulders started to relax. Then I won, and it was like a dopamine hit.

“In that moment, all of the fear and anger and stress that I was feeling just went away.”

Gambling as a health disorder

Problem gambling has been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders since 1980 but resources to help those affected are still lacking, in the US military and various other official organizations.

Since 2019, the Department of Defense has mandated annual screenings for gambling disorders as part of service members’ mandatory general health assessment. The hope is that identifying issues among servicepeople earlier will result in more effective treatment.

“Early detection and treatment of gambling disorder and other health-related behavioral issues are critical to maintaining the overall wellbeing and operational effectiveness of our forces,” said a defense department spokesperson, in one of the first public statements addressing the problem of gambling among military service people.

If you are facing issues with gambling or are worried about a loved one, the National Council on Problem Gambling has a 24/7 helpline that you can call for advice and resources.