Alternative Activities to Gambling
November 8, 2016 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I have been introduced to gambling a couple of years ago, and I am looking for activities similar to gambling that are as engaging and addictive but productive, and not at all destructive. I'm thinking if that activity would also have some elements of chance/randomness, and/or, has an element of "winning" something.

I've become addicted to gambling through electronic gambling machines (slots, video bingo, etc). I recognize the damage it has created in my life. I believe firmly that I had to get rid of this bad habit, but I am just always prone to relapse. I don't want to live this for the rest of my life so I am looking for other activities that may be similar in nature, but are not as destructive.

Because of this addiction, I realized that I am:
- very optimistic (always hoping that I will eventually hit jackpot)
- delighted by elements of randomness, surprise, and chance (there's a great high when chance suddenly favors me and gives me the right numbers to win)
- a good planner for the long-term, but fails miserably on sudden slips of action (eg, everytime I lose money, I make elaborate financial recovery plans, but come the itch of gambling, I lose everything)
- resilient and persistent (despite my losses, I feel that I can still eventually win, if I invest time and money into it). Also, in times, of loss, I make money from my different gigs and sidejobs, so I eventually recover the money

I am a graphic designer, male and late 20s, INFP. I have always had the fantasy of winning big so that I don't have to "work" anymore, and do things that I really want. I still don't know what I want either.

I really want to end my gambling addiction. Thankfully, other aspects of my life are in good shape, but if this habit continues, this will really really screw up my life. I was there at the darkest pits, until I was able to win a significant jackpot and gave me the chance to recover. I am slowly slipping again and I don't want it to happen!

Many thanks in advance.
posted by vastopenspaces to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Prize-linked savings, if you're in an area that has it! If you're in the U.S., look into Save to Win.

Also I'm writing my Master's thesis on PLS as a substitute for gambling, so if you do this I would love to interview you about it.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:54 AM on November 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons?
posted by dismal at 9:07 AM on November 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Videogames can likely scratch many of the same itches, especially multiplayer games with a RNG/gotta-catch-em-all element. But you'd need to be super careful to stay away from Free-to-Play/Pay-to-Win business models (they are basically gambling). They also have addicting properties all on their own so I'd be wary. Maybe dip your toes in with Overwatch, Destiny, or Call of Duty?

On a healthier note, is there some kind of competitive sport that interests you (to participate in, not spectate)? Could you take up boxing or join a soccer league? Maybe weightlifting might work because you're really only competing against yourself?

But, to be honest, instead of looking for something to "replace" gambling, I think you need to address this: I have always had the fantasy of winning big so that I don't have to "work" anymore, and do things that I really want. I still don't know what I want either.

You need to figure out what you want. Therapy, support groups, exercise, meditation/mindfulness can help you do that, and teach you skills to help you deal with the urges for the dopamine hits that come from gambling wins. As a graphic designer, do you want to do more art? Start a webcomic? Do you want to learn a totally unrelated skill? A new language? Travel?

You'll always love that feeling of having Lady Luck on your arm, but you need to relearn to love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from your own efforts.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:11 AM on November 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Magic: The Gathering works on a few levels: it involves strategy and luck; it involves cards, so you have a similar tactile feel; and depending on where and with whom you play, you can incorporate an ante system in which you have the possibility of winning or losing a card permanently.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:16 AM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Foraging for wild food.
Fishing. Digging for clam. Finding and picking wild fruit.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:22 AM on November 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Try playing pinball! Lots of random positive reinforcement for beginners and experts alike.

You can find machines near you with Pinball Map. Once your skills get better, then join a league. can help you find one. Work your way up to the international championships!
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:22 AM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you ever thought about working for political change or working with community organizing? I don't just mean what people think of politics, which is electoral politics, but really doing advocacy work to change certain issues that impact certain populations. I suffered from a video game addiction and also used to be interested in gambling when I was a pre-teen. After quitting and going cold turkey to save my grades, I didn't have the same passion and highs and lows until I started political organizing and doing intense learning with queer and feminist causes (it also helps that I was discovering my queerness and it helped unlock a whole new world of finding mental health resources and community and friends for me.)

There is always a churning uncertainty, but there are so many little and small and big wins, and there are so many causes that you can devote yourself to. Plus, you find yourself with some really passionate people (although you have to be careful and call in/stay away from those who over-give and have toxic boundaries.) I highly recommend it, it definitely has given me a sense of purpose in life and sharpened my intellectual and emotional skills. The fun part is that I can always step away, take a break, then dive back into something else.

Plus, good graphic design work is always needed, and you can find it as a fun way to expand your networks and beliefs, while also finding other activities to do that is related.
posted by yueliang at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about using a productivity app like Habitica? You set up your own habits/tasks/to-dos and then get game-based rewards (gold, XP, and, randomly, items in the game) for doing them.

So, for instance, you could set up a habit to put $X in your savings account per day/per week/per month/whatever, and you'll get gold and XP every time you do that. You could also set up a habit with consequences for gambling - if you go for a day without gambling, you get gold and XP, but if you do gamble that day, you lose health points for your avatar.

It sort of combines a lot of the D&D/Magic/video game suggestions above with the excellent suggestion by sparklemotion to relearn to love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from your own efforts by rewarding you for doing actual productive stuff in real life (Habitica's slogan is "Your Life, the Role Playing Game").

A couple things to note: it can be some work up front to set up your habits/to-dos, etc., but the more items you have and the smaller they are, the more often you're rewarding yourself. For example, if I wanted to drink 8 glasses of water a day, it would be better for me to set up a habit for "drink 1 glass of water" and tap the button/get rewarded 8 times during the day than to set up a habit for "drink 8 glasses of water today" and only get to tap the button/get rewarded once. If you only have one or two things you can check off per day, it's a bit of a slog to get any sense of reward.

Good luck, and major congrats for working to kick your addiction!
posted by bananacabana at 9:29 AM on November 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Anything that includes variable intermittent rewards. In addition to the foraging and fishing suggestions above: hunting, mushroom gathering, birdwatching, metal detecting. Versions that don't involve going outside: security research/exploit finding, beta testing (via Applause or something).
posted by phoenixy at 9:39 AM on November 8, 2016

I think you need to do some research on gambling addiction. It is a literal addiction, just like drug or alcohol addiction, and functions the same. The way you list (in positive terms) these traits you have "discovered" is troubling, because what you are actually listing are the logical fallacies the addiction instills in you. Slot machines use operant conditioning to keep people coming back (a variable interval reward, which creates the strongest reinforcement.) Combine this with the lies you tell yourself to justify the addiction ("I'm optimistic and persistant!" = "I know I'm gonna hit that bonus soon!"), and it's easy to stay in the loop forever.

I think one of the keys to breaking the addiction is to challenge those beliefs every time they come up - when you think of how great it will be if you just win big, remind yourself that statistically, it is basically impossible to ever come out ahead. You will always have put more in, and no win will ever be "the one" where you finally feel that it's enough.

Even if you can find some of "safe" replacement (which I think is unlikely, because the risk is an element of the addiction) I strongly suggest you look into something like Gamblers Anonymous or other treatment, and at the very least educate yourself.
posted by catatethebird at 9:52 AM on November 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Should have added, GA would be a good place to find alternative activities that are not damaging, and also talk to people with similar experiences and find out what has helped them, and learn other coping skills.
posted by catatethebird at 10:01 AM on November 8, 2016

This is great that you are so aware of the problem!

It sounds like the missing piece may be some form of accountability. Meetings can be tricky because you'll see people who have had all the consequences and think (or the addiction will tell you): "I'm not that bad yet." But you need to tell someone in real life what's going on, and that you are stopping it.

My partner gambles, sometimes more than I'm comfortable with. I come from a family of card players too. I feel like with my partner, he can scratch that itch with competitive things like fantasy football that have a small cash pool but don't have the potential to balloon into something crazy. Same with a bit of betting on golf. The group element seems to help. He also enjoys watching our investments, and tweaking them. (And growing a portfolio is a great incentive for not dumping a lot of dough into a slot machine.)
posted by BibiRose at 10:38 AM on November 8, 2016

Stock Market.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Language learning. Hear me out!

There's currently a free course on Coursera for learning Korean, and it seems to be pretty good. The thing about learning languages now is that there are a ton of games and quizzes available on the net. I just finished the part of the course which teaches the vowels and consonants of the Hangul alphabet, and I've been reinforcing that learning with a bunch of games I found.

I've been obsessing over this one. This one is fun too. This one is harder, but very intense! I just found this one, which looks a lot easier.

I know from studying French a few years ago that there is a _lot_ of material out there - probably less for Korean, but still a lot -- and it's very satisfying to do even something like the Hangul matching game over and over, getting slightly better times as I go. Later, I can find quizzes on conjugating verbs or numbers or something.

One of the surprising joys of having studied French was the ability to order things from French language web sites (including You don't have to achieve fluency to get some benefit. I'm looking forward to reaping the rewards of my obsessive Hangul match game playing.

The social benefits of learning another language are real, as are the cognitive benefits.
posted by amtho at 11:29 AM on November 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

contract bridge
posted by Billiken at 11:45 AM on November 8, 2016

Start your own business. You're basically gambling on yourself.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:51 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Learn statistics. I suspect learning more about how slot machines, etc. are programmed will take some of the thrill away, as well. It's not magic, there are underlying rules, you should know something about them. Hopefully it will break you of the notion that your optimism, resilience, and persistence in this are a good thing. Look straight on at something you're willfully ignoring.
posted by momus_window at 12:01 PM on November 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by and her eyes were wild. at 1:12 PM on November 8, 2016

posted by hworth at 5:32 PM on November 8, 2016

Chess, in a public park.
posted by ovvl at 6:06 PM on November 8, 2016


I find it extremely relaxing. It's what I did today when I was extremely stressed out and depressed about the election. You're out in nature, which is proven to be good for your mental and physical health, you're doing something that gives you a degree of exercise, and it's productive because you can grow useful things like food. It's thought of as a spring/summer hobby, but it can actually be done year round even if you live up north like I do, because you can spend a lot of time on seasonal clean-up, fall/early winter planting, then starting seeds indoors, and planning/prepping for warmer weather.

It's mostly strategy but has a big element of chance in that you can't control the weather and that there are a lot of factors determining how well your garden grows, and it's intriguing to try to troubleshoot why you plant some seeds or plants that grow like wildfire and others just never even sprout, or suddenly die on you. Every time I felt a bit heartbroken by a sudden deer raid obliterating something I had worked hard on, soon enough I'd be overjoyed to find something unexpected, like a sunflower rising up through the weeds, or a plant that had gotten hidden in a fence laden with peppers.

It also has a very interesting design element to it, I have been studying permaculture and it's all about companion planting and how you can plan out your garden design to make its yield ever better. I started out this spring by making an herb spiral which did really well over the summer and supplied me with way more herbs than I needed for anything I could have wanted to cook.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:48 PM on November 9, 2016

Metal detecting!! Cheap investment, lots of outdoor time, super exciting to hear the BEEP and who knows what you might dig up!
posted by amicamentis at 2:11 PM on November 14, 2016

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