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Protect Assets From a Gambling Problem

Authored By: Tyler Stevenson on 2/1/2024

If you’re heavily in debt, betting on a horse or a round of blackjack might appear to be your last hope for staying afloat. But, statistically speaking, it’s a bad bet. One look at the Las Vegas strip proves it's not the casinos that are losing. Most gamblers can walk away after losing a moderate amount of money. But for problem gamblers, the result can be financial and family ruin.

Fifty years ago, the typical gambler could bet only the cash in his or her pockets. Now, debit and credit cards allow gamblers to bet on everything they have, and more. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), gamblers are more likely to fall deep into debt and lose their personal property. To avoid that outcome, gamblers and their families need to put up roadblocks.

Here are some ways to protect assets:

Restrict the gambler's access to money. Consider closing checking accounts and opening new ones in the name of the nongambling spouse or another trusted person. Change PINs (personal identification numbers) on accounts that remain open. If the gambler needs a credit card for business or emergencies, he or she should open an individual account with a low credit limit. Gam-Anon recommends having the gambler's paycheck and any other regular payments deposited directly into an account he or she can't access. Identify other sources of funds, such as tips, a tax refund, or a 401(k) loan, and divert them away from the gambler. Ask friends and family members not to lend money to the gambler.

Protect valuables. Put jewelry and other valuables into a safe deposit box or storage unit that the gambler can’t access.

Take assets out of the gambler's name. Transfer assets into the name of the nongambling spouse. These include stocks, real estate, and cash-value life insurance policies.

Shift control of bills and routine financial tasks to the nongambler. The nongambler should manage the household finances—reviewing account statements, paying bills, filing the tax returns, and so on. Make deposits, transfers, and bill payments automatic through your credit union.

Establish an allowance. Give the gambler an allowance that they agree to live on. It should be high enough to meet the gambler's needs, but not so high that there is money left over to gamble.

Repay debts. The repayment process is necessary to the gambler's recovery. The gambler should order their credit reports. They will reveal the debt balances and payment status for all creditors—not bookies or friends. Be aware that gambling debts incurred on a joint credit card or loan are the responsibility of both accountholders, even if there eventually is a separation or divorce. A credit counselor can help you set priorities for your debts and create a repayment plan.

The NCPG cautions that anyone who gambles can develop problems if they don't gamble responsibly and are not aware of the risks.

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