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The Gambler’s Fallacy | Are you winning as often as you think?

Ask a gambler their winning percentage and you’ll probably get a response that’s not true. Elizabeth Thielen, the Gambling Program Director of NICASA Behavioral Health Services joins the show to discuss how unlikely partnerships (e.g., NFL Foundation, NCAA, FanDuel, National Council on Problem Gambling and Behavioral Health Providers) are banding together to create awareness campaigns to ensure gamblers participate mindfully and are cognizant of potential risks when gambling, and why “having a plan” is a key strategy to gambling responsibly and approaching gambling as a means of entertainment.

We also talk about awareness programs that are targeted at youth populations and explore why college and professional athletes are potentially at higher risk to problem gambling behaviors.

Additional resources for further information discussed in this episode:

Call Gateway Foundation: 855-723-0963

Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER

Transcript:

WAGER DANGER EPISODE 4: THE GAMBLERS FALLACY – ARE YOU WINNING AS OFTEN AS YOU THINK?

Host: Shane Cook

Welcome to the Wager Danger Podcast, a place where we discuss gambling and the dangers that can result when gambling goes beyond recreation. I’m your host, Shane Cook, gambling disorder program director at Gateway Foundation. Gateway is a national nonprofit that provides substance use and gambling disorder treatment through its 16 centers located throughout the state of Illinois. My guest on this episode is Elizabeth Felon. Liz is the director of Substance Abuse Treatment Services at Nycasa Behavioral Health Services, where she’s been helping clients for over 20 years. She’s on the board of directors for the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling and represents Nycasa Behavioral Health for the Illinois Alliance on Problem Gambling. Liz has a passion for helping athletes avoid disordered gambling. We’ll discuss the unique traits of competitive athletes that can put them at higher risk of developing problem gambling behavior. 

We’ll also be discussing the unlikely partnerships that are tackling problem gambling awareness the Gambler’s fallacy, also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy, and how you may not be winning as often as you might think. And last, the habits that make athletes great are the same habits that make athletes lousy gamblers. It’s good to have you on the show, Liz. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Well, I really appreciate the invitation. I got to listen to some of your other episodes, and I think it’s a tough act to follow, especially after hearing Bill Johnson with ICpG. He did such a great job. But I’m excited that you’re doing this podcast, and I think you’re doing good work, so I’m really grateful to be a part of it. 

Host: Shane Cook

Well, I appreciate that. We both love Bill. He’s got a wealth of knowledge, and it’s great to sit down and pick his brain from time to time. So I’m glad we had a chance to record that and the ability to share it with others. Liz, I’d like to hear a little bit more about your time at Nakasa, what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, and maybe some of the new programs that you’re focused on. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Sure. Well, I’ve been in addictions counseling for almost 25 years, and I’ve been with NICASA most of those years. I’ve been here now 20 years, and that’s exactly the same number of years that we’ve been a state-contracted provider of gambling services. So even though those two things happened at the same time, I did not start out in our gambling program. And when I was tasked with moving from some of the other things that I was doing to overseeing our gambling services, I was just brought into a world that I had no idea how important it is, how much suffering is happening around us, and forever. Now, this will be my niche. 

This is what I am most passionate about as a counselor, and I’m so grateful that in addition to overseeing our programs, our treatment programs, our outreach programs, I get to do a lot of public awareness stuff. So I get to go and talk to different groups. I talk about this pretty much anywhere I go, even when I’m not on the clock, because there’s just really no group of people that don’t need to know about how gambling can go wrong for some people and what help is available for people when that occurs. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. I think that’s fair to say. For most of us that have implemented programs that are focused on gambling, for us, we’re relatively new to it. But you’ve been doing it for a while at NICASA, right? It’s been several years that you all have developed that. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah, we’ve been a provider for 20 years, and I honestly cannot remember when I came into the fold. I will be mentioning later my history as a competitive athlete. What came with that was some concussions, and I blame those anytime I can’t remember something. So I’ll just keep saying concussion today whenever I can’t remember. But it’s been a number of years that I’ve been involved with the gambling program that I’ve been a certified gambling counselor here in Illinois. 

Host: Shane Cook

Okay, great. And recently, I believe NICASA received some funding from the National Council on Problem Gambling, which is allowing you to develop a new program that’s focused on our younger population. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yes. And this is just something that is so exciting. We had started a teen problem gambling creative group that was aimed at preventing teen gambling problems. And we had already started this. And we had just a small handful of young people who came together to learn about teen problem gambling because it’s something that people don’t really know about, they don’t think about, they don’t worry about it, and they just really scoured the research that was provided to them. Much of that from NCPG. We looked at Daravenski’s work and they looked at that and they said, what are we going to do about it? And they created some educational materials, some educational videos, and we’ve shared those. I mean, we’ve had over 500 individuals take an interactive quiz that both quizzes and educates both teens and adults about teen gambling. 

And the videos that these young people have created have been posted on YouTube and shared far and wide. And this really helped us when were looking to expand, to rise to the top of applicants and be one of only four grantees that did earn this award. And this award is going to allow us to expand that group. So we are going to get more youth involved. We are going to be looking at expanding to higher-risk groups, including young adult athletes. We’re working in communities of color, and we’re going to be coming up with some really creative ways that these teens design to raise awareness of teen problem gambling in their community. We’re already started. We’ve had a number of meetings. We’ve got some new recruits that are just so energetic and way more creative than I am. 

They’re going to be using social media we’re also connecting adults who can serve in sort of a resource or mentorship position. And we even have a school psychology student from Cairo, Egypt that we’ve been connected with that has studied the research, has provided some videos to share with these young people with some tips on how to raise awareness at the community level. So it’s just a really cool project and we cannot wait to see what they come up with because these kids are amazing. 

Host: Shane Cook

They often aren’t they? Anytime you have a chance to work with a youth population, you’re constantly amazed by their ability to grasp a new concept and really process it. It’s just fun to work with. I’ve had an opportunity to work with that segment in the past, and it’s always rewarding. But one of the questions I have about this program, is it limited to the state of Illinois or is this going to be a national program? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

That is a really good question. And we had even started, should it be limited to Lake County, Illinois, where we are? And we realized really quickly that is not feasible. And so we are accepting applicants from other areas, other nearby areas. So we have some Kane County volunteers now. We are going to try to keep it closer to home. Here in Illinois, though, the reach will be greater. So the youth that are working on the projects, because they’re going to be doing some in-person stuff, so I’m not going to be able to fly all over the country and help guide them in these projects, but they’re going to be doing some boots on the ground stuff. 

One of the things that they’re working on right now, and we actually have a meeting later with some of the youth and some of the adult mentors to put together a car wash. And we’ve all seen those car washes that are raising money, and their tagline is going to be, we’re not raising money, we’re raising awareness. And they’re going to be coming up with some educational materials that they share with the drivers and also give them their little elevator speech about teen gambling and how to prevent it. And those who do receive that information will get a free car wash from the kids. So that’s just an example of some of the hands-on, event kind of stuff that they’ll be doing. 

But anything that they create, whether it’s educational flyers or videos or social media posts, of course those are going to be shared as far as we can. And as we’ve seen, we already have this wonderful connection from across the globe all the way over in Egypt. So it’s kind of cool how the reach can be tremendous, though the efforts will be Illinois based. 

Host: Shane Cook

Okay, and if I understand correctly, this program has been funded through the NFL Foundation, who contributed to the National Council on Problem Gambling, which then selected NICASA. And this program, if I heard correctly, it’s one of the first programs that’s been funded from that grant from the NFL. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

That’s right. And there was also additional support from FanDuel. So it is a really unique time where the industry can partner and collaborate to prevent problem gambling. Because one thing that many people may not realize is that problem gambling affects everybody. Everybody is harmed by problem gambling. So it’s in everybody’s best interest to collaborate to figure out how do we prevent problem gambling and how do we increase access to care for those who are affected. And so it is really amazing and a great precedent that we have some other sectors of the community that you might not expect joining efforts. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah. And it’s so important and everybody has a role to play when it comes to gambling. I know at least in the state of Illinois, there’s so many organizations that are providing treatment. But there’s also, you think of all the gaming operators that exist, the casinos and the video gaming terminal parlors and now the introduction of online sports betting. So your Fan Duel, your DraftKing, those ballies platforms that are available, each of them participate through funding these types of programs. So there is this idea that gambling and gambling providers are somewhat neutral when it comes to gaming, neither for it nor against it. It’s neither good nor bad. But having the ability to provide education and awareness about recognizing and creating awareness to what problem gambling is very important not only to the gaming operators and the state, but also to the providers. 

So I think we kind of share that idea and I think that’s somewhat what you were getting at there on your final point. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. And it is important for us to strive for neutrality because we have to remember, and it can be hard to remember that many people who choose to gamble are able to do so as it is intended as a form of recreation with dollars that they had budgeted for that purpose and that they’re okay with losing. And we aren’t in the position of saying that they don’t have the right to do that. At the same time, how to gamble in a lower-risk way isn’t necessarily intuitive. And I’ve even said if you talked to people about what is drinking in moderation or what is responsible drinking look like you’re going to get a bunch of different definitions and many of them are not going to be accurate. Many of them are actually going to define binge drinking. 

So we think we understand alcohol so much more than even gambling. So what tells us that people are going to be able to gamble in a lower-risk way without some sort of in advance education and knowledge about that? So what it would be ideal is that people who are considering whether or not to participate in gambling have opportunities to kind of self-assess and say is this for me? What are my particular risk factors. And given these factors, do I want to participate? Okay. If I do want to, what does it look like to do it in a lower-risk way? Okay. If I do that, what are the things that I need to look out for that might tell me it’s not going as expected? So, as you said, we all have a role to play in that process. 

And I’ve heard it said, and I’ll repeat it, I stole it from somebody. But the only way to maximize the benefits of commercialized gambling is to minimize problem gambling. 

Host: Shane Cook

Makes a ton of sense. So what are some of the ways that these organizations that you’ve seen, Liz, some of these organizations that are partnering together, you wouldn’t immediately say these are very likely bed partners. For example, the NFL Foundation partnering with FanDuel, partnering with the National Council on Problem Gambling, which in turn rolls it down to a program that NICASA is able to roll out. They seem like unlikely partners, but I think it speaks back to that overall idea of neutrality when it comes to gambling and how we’re all throwing our hats in the ring to do what’s best for the overall community. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. And I think that you’re right. On the surface, it might seem unlikely, but problem gambling hurts everybody. So it is in everybody’s best interest to figure out how can we partner to prevent problem gambling and so to have these real heavy hitters and these major players, I guess, so to speak, joining efforts with the National Council on Problem Gambling not only to fund prevention efforts, but to do other good things like training their employees about problem gambling prevention. We have in Illinois requirements that any gambling advertisement will also display helpline information. And that’s really important because if I’m a gambler, I’m more likely to see that information on a gambling product or in a gambling establishment than I am to hear Liz Thiel and out talking somewhere. Right? Right. 

And I was even approached early in COVID by a website called Casino.org, and it’s a major betting website that talks about the industry. And the article was about how COVID was affecting public awareness efforts. And I had some colleagues that kind of gave me a little guff about partnering with basically a gaming site. And I said, the reason I’m doing this is more gamblers go to Casino.org than go to Nicasa.org. And so there’s the audience. So, yes, I am going to partner with them. And they put out an excellent article about all the closures and how that affected outreach efforts, but also how it affected gamblers. 

Because one of the things that a lot of people may not realize is if you’re a frequent better and a very intense player and you abruptly stop, you can have an experience, much like a withdrawal experience from alcohol or drugs. And so that did affect players with those COVID closures. And some turn to other means of gambling and some experience some real discomfort and other symptoms. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right? Well, there’s a couple of things that you said there that I like to always turn to is it’s best to meet people where they are? And that sounds like the opportunity that you have with casino.org is to meet people where they are and have that opportunity to create some awareness. The second thing that you mentioned there is the neurological impact that gambling has on gamblers. And I’ve seen you talk about this in detail and I’m wondering if you can share a little bit more of that. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah. And it’s interesting because people in general think gambling is a behavior, it’s not a substance. So they don’t think that it affects the brain in the way that substances do, but it does. And brain research really pays that out. There’s activation of the reward centers of the brain. Much like when somebody experiences stimulant use, there’s kind of a deactivation of the areas of the brain related to judgment and inhibitions much like you see in a substance-disordered brain. So we need to be able to understand that even though we didn’t ingest a substance, our brain is experiencing it as if we did. And we need to extend that same courtesy that we would extend to a substance-using person who’s experiencing difficulties to a gambler who’s experiencing difficulties. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. So we’ve got the neurological impact that gambling has much like substance use disorders present in people. What are some of the signs? What are some of the things that we can notice right away in people that may be experiencing withdrawal or maybe anxiousness to get back and play or is it just that? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

I think it’s important to know some of the signs and symptoms of when gambling becomes disordered. And then we’ll also take a step to look at what does that look like because it’s not as obvious as it might be with substances. I mean, you’re not going to smell it. You can’t look at somebody and really sense that they’ve experienced problems with gambling. You’re not going to be able to do a drug test and find out that somebody’s gambling. So some of those things to look out for in the individual themselves is they’re needing to increase their bets to get the same experience. They may have a hard time cutting back, quitting or controlling their gambling. They might, like you said, become restless or irritable or even really sad when they abruptly stop gambling. They might be very preoccupied with gambling. 

So spending a lot of time and mental energy thinking about the next time that they’re going to play fantasizing about winning, looking back on past wins, they might be hiding their gambling from other people in their life like their loved ones or their workplace or their counselor. Another indicator is chasing losses. So losing can be part of the game and is part of the game with gambling and a nondisordered gambler is just going to go, oh okay, that wasn’t fun, and just be over it and not gamble again for a while. But a disordered gambler is going to feel this frantic need to win that back and they’re going to kind of double down, they’re going to go get more money or they’re going to come back the next time that they get paid to try to win it back. 

And unfortunately that can lead to bigger losses and more chasing. And then you can have people whose work life, their home life, their school life is being adversely affected. And lastly, you have people who are struggling financially and have to borrow money, take out loans, claim bankruptcy, that sort of thing, in order to make ends meet. Now all that being said, those are, things are kind of hard to see from the outside. 

Host: Shane Cook

Well, it’s interesting you say that because I recently finished watching Wild Card on HBO Max, and that’s the story of Craig Carlton and everything that he went through with his gambling disorder. So nobody caught on to what was going on with him, or at least the people that were interviewed for that movie, people that were the closest to him, they may have thought it, but it never really showed itself. It’s hard to see until sometimes it’s too late, right? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

And it can feel like it’s too late for many people. So we do find that a gambling problem can get quite severe before it’s discovered because of that, because you just don’t know what to look for. And those few signs that there are very subtle compared to substance use. So you can have people who are maybe not where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be. You think they’re at work, you call them to say, hey, can you pick up milk on the way home? And they’re not at work, okay, so where are they? Or maybe they don’t pick up the kids on time from daycare. So some of that missing time, but also missing money because gambling takes money. So that’s a big indicator. What’s happening with the finances? 

Are the finances not in order where they should be based on what’s coming in and what the expenses are? But you can also have people having money or stuff that you didn’t expect because sometimes people win with gambling, right? So all of a sudden there’s gifts being given or trips being taken. So that could be an indicator. And then when we say for substance use, we teach people what paraphernalia to look for. So it’s not going to be as obvious with gambling. But you can see lottery tickets, you can see apps on phones and that sort of thing, websites on computers. So those are things and I guess I would say the number one thing to look out for is someone borrowing money. That’s something that’s really telling. Why do you need to borrow this money? 

Of course I want to help you out, but I’m a little worried because it really looks like you should be able to make ends meet with what you’ve got going on. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah. Okay. So we’ve talked a little bit about recognizing or the difficulty in recognizing some of those signs in a problem gambler. But if were to go back to the beginning and I guess we started down the neurological path first, but are there some strategies that people can employ to make it a safer experience for themselves? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Sure, I really think there are safer betting strategies and I would say before you even bet is to consider is this for me as a person, but also is this for me at this point in my life? So looking at some of those risk factors that any of us can bring to the table and so looking at is there a genetic predisposition towards addiction? So addiction running through the family. And it’s interesting that of course, children of people with gambling disorder have a much higher rate of gambling disorder. But the number one connection is actually alcoholism to gambling. So a first-order relative with alcoholism and that person experiencing gambling disorder. So the heredity is a big one. Another is am I someone who has had experiences with trauma, recent trauma, unresolved trauma? Do I have anxiety and depression? 

These are things that can go hand in hand with gambling in a disordered way. What about substance use? Substance use and gambling disorder can also go hand in hand. Athletes and military at a high rate. Higher rate, yes. So military and veterans have that higher rate. Athletes have a higher rate, which we are going to be talking about seniors and older adults, but also adolescents and young adults. And then there are some people from different ethnic and racial groups that have an increased vulnerability, including Latinx population was found to be having a much higher prevalence rate in Illinois in the most recent study or the first ever actually statewide impact study that was released. So that’s a group that really needs some additional information about the risks involved. So that would be the first step is what are my risks? 

And then again, at this point in my life, because when someone is struggling, for example, with grief, profound grief, that’s not the time to start gambling. When someone has lost a job, that’s not a time to start gambling. So there might be certain points that it’s a good time to not start or to take a break from gambling. But if somebody has gone through all of that and they say, yeah, I think I’m okay to give this a try, do this right now is to see gambling as a form of recreation and only to do it if it’s fun. To really think of the money that is spent gambling as the cost of that form of entertainment. 

I heard at a training a long time ago, you don’t go into the movie theater thinking you’re going to come out with more money than you went in with. Right. So why do we think that we’re going to come out of a casino or a sporting event that were placing bets on with more money than went in with? It’s a form of recreation and it needs to be budgeted for like any other form of recreation. You’re not going to take trips if you don’t have any money in the bank. You shouldn’t be doing that on credit or borrowing money or using money that you need for bills. So we wouldn’t advise doing that to gamble either. And then not chasing losses like we talked about before. 

If you lose, recognize that’s part of the game and don’t try to go back and win it back. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Definitely not combining gambling with drinking or other substance use, because those are things that can have you gambling in a way that’s not all that thoughtful or. 

Host: Shane Cook

Moves the line, so to speak. In terms of you go in with a plan, but you’re drinking at the same time and your resolve to stay within that plan can be altered. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. 

Host: Shane Cook

And soon you’ve extended beyond the entertainment phase of spending the amount that you had intended on gambling. I’ve heard this thing that the gambler’s fallacy right. Thinking that you’re up more than you really are when it comes to gambling. And I know you’ve thought a lot about this and it’s part of some of the presentations I’ve seen you give. What are your thoughts on that? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah, I think the way that our brains are designed are unfortunately set up to have us thinking we’re doing much better than we are when we gamble. And so if you ask any gambler, are you up, down, are you even, they’re probably going to say they’re up, or at the very least, that they’re broken even and they are very possibly incorrect. And that’s because our brains are designed to remember wins much more clearly and for much longer than losses. And so we remember those wins as if they were yesterday and they stand out in our mind. And all of the losses that occurred in between those wins, they just slowly, over time, go away. 

And so it’s really important that when we talk about those lower-risk gambling practices is to write stuff down or to use an app that keeps an accounting of those wins and losses so that you’re not relying on your memory that is actually designed to tell you that you’re doing better than you are. 

Host: Shane Cook

Part of this is by design, right. In the gaming industry, it kind of reinforces this kind of fallacy, this notion that the gambler is under the impression that they’re up, that even a near miss may count in the win column. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. Yeah. So there is this thing called the near miss. And it’s been shown that almost winning feels like a win and it feels really very stimulating and reinforcing. And so that can happen in lots of ways. You could be sitting at a poker table and the person next to you wins, that’s a near miss. But if you’re playing the slot machines, for example, which are designed in a lab or in a shop to have lines of play, and you have gold bar, cherry, but there’s like a gold bar poking out from the top, that’s a near miss. And the machines now have multiple lines of play, so you can have many more opportunities for a near miss. 

And then you also have all those other things that are reinforcing, like pressing a button and things lighting up and things chiming at you. All of these things are really reinforcing. 

Host: Shane Cook

And it’s interesting, I heard you point out that a lot of this information and the studies that have been done on this particular topic can trace their roots back to back in early Las Vegas where the roulette wheel landed on black. Do you want to explain a little bit more about that? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah, there’s something called the Monte Carlo fallacy, or also known as the Gamblers fallacy and it does route back to, I think, 1913 Las Vegas, where some players were playing roulette and the ball landed on black a certain number of times in a row. And the players just felt very certain that it had to be red the next time. And they kept putting more and more money down and guess what? It just kept landing on black. And so over the course of just that one evening, millions of dollars were lost. And this is in 1913 at one casino, at one table. So that just tells you that we have this belief, and it seems to make sense that if you have all these outcomes that are the same, that very next time must be different. But that’s just a misunderstanding of how probability works. 

And with most of these games, the probability is what it is and it is the same every time that spins or the cards are dealt independent of what happened right before it. And so we tend to think, oh, because I just lost, I’m more likely to win. And those two things have nothing to do with each other. And you can also have people think that they can affect the outcome of a game based on saying something like having a mantra, a prayer, maybe have a talisman, a lucky routine that they go through. And it feels very compelling and true, but it isn’t true because it’s really all about the probability and the odds. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. The lucky hats not going to do it, right? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. The lucky socks need to be washed. 

Host: Shane Cook

All right, well, I want to get back to something that we touched on earlier in our discussion, and that is. The appeal of sports betting, the effects that it has on not only the athlete, but the fans. And like to hear a little bit more about your turn as an amateur athlete, if you don’t mind sharing that story. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah. And so you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, and thankfully, the viewers do not have to look at me, but back in the day, and this was in the late ninety s, I was actually an amateur boxer. And I was at that time, very good at my sport. And I did become the first United States Champion at 112 pounds in 1997. Female champion. 

Host: Shane Cook

Congratulations. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

And so I do know inside and out the workings of a competitive athlete’s brain, and there are a lot of traits that athletes have that make them excellent at their sport. But if you translate that to a gambling environment, they’re actually not very adaptive at all. And so, when you add sports wagering into the mix, this is a form of gambling that’s particularly interesting to athletes. And so that’s where that kind of double whammy can come in. We already have the increased risk for gambling in a disordered way, and then you add in a type of gambling that’s very interesting to us. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. And being an athlete, you would typically think, or your mind would begin to think, that you have an inside track, you understand the sport, you know what’s what, and feel that you can beat the game. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. 

Host: Shane Cook

That’s an athlete’s mentality. Right. Just to win. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. Yeah. And so just that one statement that you made has so many components of it that do make athletes at greater risk. So we consider ourselves winners. There’s this very strongly held identity of being a winner. But guess what happens a lot with gambling? 

Host: Shane Cook

You lose. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

And we cannot abide by losing. And I’ve said it before, I’m almost 50. I would just, like, arm wrestle anybody in the room. It doesn’t go away. It’s this innate thing that we have that we’re so competitive. We consider ourselves winners. We think that just by sheer force of will that we can overcome. But that doesn’t apply in a gambling situation. You can’t win gambling just because you are a winner or because you have this strong determination. And so that is definitely one of those things that does make us not great gamblers. 

Host: Shane Cook

But having that discussion with a competitive athlete, somebody who’s participating at a very high level really goes against what they’ve been training for years, over and over again. The time you don’t succeed, what do you do? You go back, you do more work. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right? Yeah. It’s contrary to all the principles and the training principles that athletes come to the table with. So if I’m losing in my sport, I don’t quit. I dig deep, I train harder, and I come right back. If I’m losing gambling, there’s no digging deep or trying to do it better. And coming back actually is one of those signs that we talked about chasing losses. And then on the flip side, if I’m winning as an athlete and I experience this, you win locally, you go to states, you win states, you go to nationals. In my time, women’s boxing was not in the Olympics, but you better believe I sure would have shot for that had that been the case. 

And you see Olympic athletes who win and they win a medal, but now I want the gold medal, then they win the gold medal. They want to be a multi-gold medal Olympic athlete. And so there’s really no jackpot that is going to have an athlete stopping. And so the same thing applies with gambling. If you have an athlete who brings that mentality to the gambling arena and they win, that’s not enough for them. They’re going to be looking for winning again, the bigger win. And we know that’s not the likely outcome if we’re being really practical. Look at the gambling revenue that’s generated. Gambling revenue comes from people losing. And so there are more losses than there are wins over time. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a lucrative endeavor. And you’re right, it’s a hard conversation to have. 

So I think we can be honest and say you’re going to feel like you should dig deeper. You’re going to feel like you’ve got the edge, and that’s okay. That comes naturally to you. You need to be able to counteract that and say, but that’s not how gambling works. That’s not what gambling is supposed to be like. How am I going to do this in a lower-risk way, or am I just not able to it’s okay to say gambling is not for me. It’s just my personality. And gambling doesn’t go hand in hand. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. And the thing that I find comforting in all of this is we now have the NCAA, who has and I’m going back to the whole partnership discussion now. The NCAA has partnered with Epic Risk Management to go out and implement educational programs for their student-athletes. So we’re starting at that level where you’ve got a high-performing athlete that’s coming out of high school. It’s probably been exposed while they’re in high school, to gambling and entering into an even higher, even a higher level within their chosen sport to go out and compete. So I think it’s great news that the NCAA has funded education programming like that, and they’ve partnered with somebody who’s recognized as a world leader in performing this type of education among professional teams as well as collegiate teams. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Absolutely. And having it come again from the entity themselves, it just carries a lot of weight. And when you think about young athletes, they have at least two risk factors coming into it. They’re athletes and they’re young adults, which are both independent of each other, higher risk groups for developing a gambling problem. So getting that message to them early on in an effective way is really important because a lot of athletes don’t realize the effect that can have on their career. If we just even put problem gambling aside, just betting on an NCAA sport, when you are an NCAA athlete, that’s it. You could lose your career. You can be suspended if you’re a college athlete and you lose your scholarship. And so the risks are even higher for people in that position. So it makes more sense to just really stay away, right? 

Host: Shane Cook

So we talked about the impact of gambling on the athlete. We haven’t talked about so much the impact on the fans. There’s an impact there as well. If I’m following my favorite professional sports team and I’m already vested emotionally, now I’m going to throw in betting on top of that. What does that do from the fans perspective? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right? And I do think that this is important for any sports fan to really consider this as they’re considering getting involved in sports wagering. Why do you love sports? What do you love about sports? What do you love about your team and about your favorite players? And how can that be impacted by betting on your team against your team? What if your team doesn’t do well? What if your favorite player fumbles a play and costs you money? And there was an interesting article on Sports Illustrated online that talked about this, the experiences of the players when they are getting harassment by social media and in other ways because they fumbled a play and a fan lost money. And these athletes are saying, you’re not seeing me as an athlete anymore. You’re seeing me as a means to making money or losing money. 

That absolutely is affecting the relationship between the sports fan and the player. And we really need to consider that when we’re deciding what to do. If I want to do this, am I willing to risk that I’ve looked up to these athletes for all this time. All of a sudden, does it make or break my relationship with them based on how they perform and how my bets payout or don’t pay out? And so we really do need to consider that. And for someone who is a sports fan thinking about engaging in sports betting, we talked about those safer gambling practices. A sports fan might need to add some things to that. What are my boundaries? Am I going to never bet against my team? 

Am I going to, for example, this is a good one to consider betting on an event but not betting in play. And so there has been some research that shows that betting during the game, that in-game betting, there is a higher rate of disordered gambling amongst people who do that, as opposed to the people who just bet on the event itself. So this is one limit that a player might make. Like, I’ll bet on who’s going to win the game, but I’m not going to bet once that game starts. It’s it I sit back and I enjoy the game. Like that could be a healthy limit that somebody sets for themselves. 

Host: Shane Cook

That comes back to the whole entertainment or recreation aspect of betting rather than trying to make it, I hate to say this, to make it your job to go out and bet in-game play-by-play. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. 

Host: Shane Cook

It’s fascinating to me. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah. And I think if people do decide that this is what I want to do as my profession, well one, remember that’s not even what gambling is supposed to be recreation, not a profession. And that’s not to say there are. 

Host: Shane Cook

Red flag number one. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. And there are successful professional gamblers. The ratio of the successful to the unsuccessful though is what we really need to consider. And if I say that’s it, I’m a professional, whatever, sports better, I’m a professional poker player. Okay, let’s have a look at those tax returns. How is this working out? Am I actually on the upside at the end of the year or am I claiming losses? And if I’m claiming losses that’s not my job. I’m in a nonprofit. But if I came home with a negative paycheck, I don’t think I’m going to be doing this for very long even though I love what I do. 

So we really do need to be practical about that and we need to be aware that there is research that shows that there is a higher rate of problem gambling among people who sports bet compared to other forms of gambling. So there’s some more risks involved. The why of that I don’t think I could really speak to, but that is important to know. And then there’s also this high rate of gamblers thinking they have an edge, that they do know more, that they have the skill, they have the strategy. 

And many are very sophisticated with tech and they’ve got all these stats and they’ve got them compiled on these spreadsheets and databases and unfortunately, that kind of increases this illusion of control that they are going to be more likely to win and the research is really not paying out that is very much more successful than just an average better. 

Host: Shane Cook

Again, it comes back to the probabilities. At the end of the day you can factor in everything, every outside tidbit of knowledge that you pick up from the outside and try and factor that in. But ultimately it comes back to the overall probabilities of what’s going to happen next. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

And we do need to remember then with sports. Think of all the factors that come into play. I still think of and it was so terrible but I can picture it when a bird flew out into a baseball game and that’s right when that ball hit and it was like poof, just a bunch of feathers. So you’ve got all this amazing data collected, but there’s so many variables that you can’t know in advance, and they change the game. And I think back to this is really funny. I used to go out to Vegas quite a lot to see some of the prize fights, and my friend and I, we had gone to a buffet the night before, and we saw one of the fighters from the card the next day there at the buffet. 

Well, don’t you know it, both her and I got food poisoning. And don’t you know it, that fighter the next day did terrible, and he really had been slated to he was not the underdog. And so there’s that unknown variable. Where did they eat the night before? Was it a buffet where they got some bad Chinese food? And so many variables that you cannot account for. And again, it goes back to if you choose to do this, be aware that you can’t know the outcome and keep an eye on your wins versus losses. And if it’s not working out for you, don’t double down. Think about it, do I want to start limiting what I’m expending on this now? 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. And you had shared with me at a previous meeting that NICASA developed a logbook, right? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

That’s right. 

Host: Shane Cook

So it gives you the opportunity to do exactly what you just said, right. The amount of time you’re spending, how much, those sorts of things. So if we can include that as somebody could reach out to you and pick one of those up too. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. And a lot of the sports betting apps will have some tools available for limit setting and that sort of thing. And there’s apps out there now. Like one is gambling responsibly in America. This is one that has some information about limit setting and keeping track of your wagers and that sort of thing. So there is a lot available even sometimes on the apps themselves that people use to Gamble. 

Host: Shane Cook

It’s almost a self-exclusion type activity. Boundaries is probably a better way to put it. It’s imposing those self-boundaries on how much you can spend per day, how much time you can spend on the app, and things like that. So I think that’s very important that online sports betting apps have done that. They’ve taken that extra step. But there’s always room for us to be on the lookout, right, absolutely. People that are not engaging those tools. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Right. So, yeah, if you’re worried about a loved one, then maybe you could say, what are you using? Have you checked out the tools that help you to be safer in doing this? And if they haven’t looked at that may be something to do together. Well, let’s check it out and see what they have. And if the vendor that somebody chooses doesn’t have any of those tools, I might rethink that. I might want to use a provider of different tool. Yeah, a different tool. Yeah. 

Host: Shane Cook

Okay. So we’ve covered a lot of ground here today. Liz, are there any other things that you can think of that you would like to mention that would add to the conversation something that we didn’t touch on, that you had hoped we would touch on? 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Yeah, I think that we really need to understand that gambling is more accessible now than it ever was. And you used to have to go somewhere to gamble, and even when that was the case, people suffered from disordered gambling, and now we could be doing it right now. One of us could be doing this on our cell phone right now. So it’s very accessible. That means that we might end up participating without forethought, and it does bear forethought and knowing that there is plenty of help available and there are resources. No matter where you are, you don’t have to have a problem to reach out. 

And I think that’s really important to know if you think you might want to gamble if you’ve just started gambling or if you have been gambling and it’s not quite turning out as you expected right up through I’m devastated. I can’t believe this happened. There’s help available, and in Illinois, it’s really easy because you can just call 1800 Gambler and connect twenty-four-seven to a helpline that’s going to connect you with what’s available in your area. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. I couldn’t have said it better. That’s a great way to end, Liz, and I appreciate you joining us today and sharing your thoughts and your experiences and your knowledge with our listeners. You’re such a wealth of knowledge and that information that you’ve built up over the last several years is just invaluable in our shared community of providers across the state. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Thank you. I do want to mention, if it’s all right, that if people are particularly interested in the notions of what makes a good athlete makes a bad gambler, they can check out fightproblemgambling.com. And that’s where I expand on a lot of those ideas. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah, that’s perfect. We’ll make sure we include that in the show notes. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Sure. 

Host: Shane Cook

Liz, thanks again for joining us. I really enjoyed our conversation and absolutely love the passion you bring to your work every single day. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Well, thank you for the opportunity. It was fun. Let’s do it again. 

Host: Shane Cook

I’m going to hold you to that. 

Guest: Elizabeth Thielen

Okay. 

Host: Shane Cook

We love hearing from you, so please take a moment to like, share and comment on our podcast. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter at recovergateway on LinkedIn at gatewayfoundation or through our website@gatewayfoundation.org. Wager Danger is supported through funding whole or in part through a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process. If you or a family member is struggling with a gambling problem, call Gateway at 844-975-3663 and speak with one of our counselors for a confidential assessment. You.

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