Gambling Definitions Banner

Gambling Definitions

Better Definitions Of Gambling

highlighting the word

Dictionaries are a minor hobby of mine.  I look for them in garage sales and bookstores, especially the specialized ones like “A Dictionary of Aviation” and “Birds of the World: A Checklist.”  I used to enjoy reading (or just looking at the drawings and pictures) in the volumes of matching red “Encyclopedia Britannica”  in my childhood home.  I get a kick out of the perspectives found in  “The Ann Landers Encyclopedia” and “Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare.”  An oldie-but-goodie is the “Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.”  That one came in handy when writing college papers.  I have an entire shelf of knitting reference books, including “Knitting for Dummies,”  since knitting is my number one hobby, and the various experts in the fiber field are a rich source of creative ideas and supports.  They were necessary before YouTube allowed me to find a video of someone demonstrating a three-needle bind-off when I wanted to finish a project late at night.

Now that most of our reference  materials are found online, we have choices about pulling out our phones to ask Google or Siri the definition of something, and I am glad for the convenience.  However, I noticed while correcting papers for the online course I teach through the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) called “Exploring Gambling Behaviors” that some of my students were giving short answers on their exams which consistently erred from the truth I knew.  Questions  about how many of the United States allow gambling, and what percentage of the population is likely addicted to gambling were showing up with a variety of answers.  It dawned on me when I began asking students to reference where they found their information that they were using Google and Wikipedia, among other online sources.  Bah, humbug!

University of Nevada Reno Campus Building 

They were finding answers that “someone” had posted, or, in other search engines, answers which appeared to be correct, but not what I was looking for.  I was looking for the sources that actually do gambling research, use peer-reviewed journal articles as their databases, not headline news or a compilation of stuff. Why this matters to me is the gravity of being able to share real numbers and real stories about a subject which affects many of us: gambling.

Information On Legalized Gambling In The United States?

If you hadn’t read my course materials advising you to look up the answers to those questions within the course instead of using a search engine,  you may have been surprised when your answer to the question of how many of the United States allow gambling disagreed with mine.  The answer is 48.  Only Utah and Hawaii have absolutely zero forms of legalized gambling.  Note the word “legalized.”  You will find many forms of gambling in Utah and Hawaii, but they are not sanctioned, taxed, or allowed as business ventures there. I’ve heard that dog fights and cock fights (roosters which have razors strapped to their legs and the fight is to the death) still occur in Hawaii.  West Wendover Nevada is on the state line next to Wendover, Utah.  You may walk across the street in Wendover to gamble at the casinos in West Wendover.  Casino-style gambling, Indian or tribal gambling, card rooms, horse tracks, lotteries…the various kinds of gambling are regulated and taxed in some way by the States or the tribal leadership.  

black jack being played

If you simply asked Google the question, “how many states allow gambling,” you will get different answers, surprisingly!   Look at the various ways you can ask that question and what you find.  I pulled these from Google in August, 2021:

In the United States, gambling is legal in 48 states in some capacity. Only Utah and Hawaii have a 100% ban on it. However, social poker games in private residences are allowed in Hawaii.

How many states have legal casinos?

Answer: 18 states

Today, 18 states have commercial casinos, and a total of 30 states offer legalized gambling of any kind (commercial or tribal). Some of the latest states to join the ranks of those that allow commercial gaming include Maine, Ohio, Kansas and Maryland. Others, like Oregon, were expected to vote on the issue in November. Jan 24, 2013

Do all 50 states have casinos?

Most states have at least one casino now, but there are still some holdouts where there is no legal casino in which to gamble. Even the states that are home to the most casinos—Nevada, Oklahoma, Colorado, and California—have dozens of sometimes strange laws on the books regulating the operation of these casinos. Sep 14, 2018

What US states don’t have casinos

The following US states do not have casinos. Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia do not have any land-based or tribal casinos.

What states have legalized gambling?

As of 2020, Nevada and Louisiana are the only two states in which casino-style gambling is legal statewide, with both state and local governments imposing licensing and zoning restrictions.

How many states is online gambling legal?

The legalization of online poker and casino began in 2013 when Nevada launched online poker, and New Jersey and Delaware launched online casinos and poker sites. Since 2013, only three other states have expressly joined them: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan.

Finally, you’ll notice that there are dates when these items were posted.  I promise you the changes in legalized gambling, online gambling, sports betting, what type of gambling is allowed/not allowed, and other forms of wagering including prizes won in charity raffles and lotteries are dynamic and being reviewed in State legislatures regularly. 

Where To Find Changes To Gambling Laws In The United States

If you’d like to follow the legal aspects of gambling nationally and internationally, there are many experts, like Dr. Nelson Rose, who have done a great deal of writing and presenting on this topic for decades.  I refer to the National Council on Problem Gambling’s website for the latest around the USA.

Some Gambling Definitions

For today, I’d like to wrap up this blogpost with a few thoughts on the definitions of gambling.  I’ve noticed that even my clients who are overwhelmed with pain and shame as they approach me asking for help with Gambling Disorder are unclear about what exactly constitutes “gambling,” and what constitutes “a problem.”

Today I started with my fascination with different dictionaries, encyclopedias, and reference sources.  The older I get the more interested I’ve become in knowing my sources.  While there may be hundreds of knitting books, I gravitate towards the ones that involve experts that I can understand and benefit from.  In our discussion about gambling today, I’ll offer a few perspectives and end with my favorites. Definition:

“Gambling:  The betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation. ”    

Wikipedia Definition:

“Gambling is the wagering something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome with the intent of winning something of value. Gambling thus requires three elements to be present: consideration, risk, and a prize.” 

American Psychological Association Definition:

The American Psychological Association defines “Gambling Disorder” as:  

DSM–5’s term for pathological gambling, categorized as a nonsubstance-related addiction rather than an impulse-control disorder (as in DSM–IV–TR). DSM–5 criteria for the disorder include persistent, recurrent gambling not related to manic episodes, along with significant impairment or distress. Associated behaviors may include betting increasing amounts of money, inability to limit or stop gambling, and preoccupation with gambling.”  

Merriam-Webster’s definition of “gambling”:

“: the practice or activity of betting the practice of risking money or other stakes in a game or bet.”  

Gamblers Anonymous Definition:

And finally, Gamblers Anonymous, the 12-Step organization founded in 1957 to support those affected by gambling, defines gambling as follows:

Gambling, for the compulsive gambler is defined as follows:

 Any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or “skill” constitutes gambling.”   

The G.A. definition is my favorite because it nails the concept of the three elements mentioned in the Wikipedia definition when someone has a problem with gambling: “consideration, risk, and a prize.”  G.A. goes one step further in defining what gambling is for the “compulsive gambler,” as they call themselves. 

The action of gambling for a person with gambling disorder begins well before the bet or wager is placed.  There is an uncertain outcome, chance, and something of value placed as a wager.  Thus, people who have quit gambling know to look out for the way they felt, the triggers, or the “action,” as signs they are already in relapse…before they put down the first penny or object of value to start the game.  Recovering gamblers attend meetings, talk with other recovering people, and seek additional professional therapy from places like the RPGC to avoid the slippery slope towards making that next bet, which, as they say, “one is too many and a thousand is never enough.”

Clients who ask me, “what about the stock market,” or, “there’s a pool forming to guess when the gal at work will give birth…” or, “how do you feel about Publisher’s Clearing House…” will get my pause, a smile, and an open invitation to further define what constitutes being in action for them.  By definition, if a person recovering from Gambling Disorder becomes a day trader with investments, puts his name on a block and promises to pay the office baby pool when the baby arrives, or purchases things through Publisher’s Clearing House and checks the box “enter me into the drawing,” he is gambling, and he has either slipped without full awareness of his error or he has relapsed, understanding, even while in denial, that he is back in the problem.  It is super important to fully comprehend the definition of gambling, and study it with other recovering people to get an outside-of-your-brain perspective now and then.

woman thinking about the three second rule


The Three Second Rule

Check your definitions of “being in action” with any behavior.  I like the way folks at Sex Addicts Anonymous (S.A.A.) and Sexaholics Anonymous (S.A.) refer to the “three-second rule.”  A person has three seconds to recognize that she is seeing and then beginning to stare at something pretty.  At the count of “three,” she needs to shift away from the object and distract and focus elsewhere on something positive and healthy, or on second number four she has entered the danger zone of fantasy, lust, preoccupation, or whatever you call being in action.  We’ve all got about three seconds to check our intentions and change our behaviors.  Those first two seconds are natural human inclinations.  The third second becomes determination, and as for me and my colleagues, we choose to define recovery as freedom from obsession today.  Thanks for reading, and reach out to me with your thoughts and recommendations for future blogs!   

Denise Quirk - Clinical Director RPGCDenise F. Quirk,

Clinical Director, Reno Problem Gambling Center




Partner Links:

Nevada Council On Problem Gambling

Nevada 211 – Health and Human Services

Project  Worth

Lanies Hope