For most of us, gambling is merely a once-in-a-while amusement: the occasional lottery ticket purchase or an annual trip to Vegas. Assuming you’ve reached the age of majority – and the type of gambling in which you’re involved is legal in your jurisdiction – there should be no issue with casual gambling from a security clearance standpoint.

However, as with almost any so-called “vice”, there are those who do it compulsively and/or who take risks beyond what society would generally deem acceptable. If you find yourself unable to control the urge to gamble; if you spend more than a small fraction of your disposable income on gambling; or, if friends or family have ever advised that you might have a gambling problem, you may very well be risking your career. Here’s why – and what you can do to mitigate the damage.

Why Problem Gambling is Considered a Security Risk

Compulsive or excessively risky gambling (“problem gambling”) is considered a security risk because it both exposes the gambler to major financial loss (thereby increasing the likelihood that s/he will turn to criminal enterprise to recoup losses) and reflects a lack of judgment. These issues implicate Guideline “F” (financial considerations) and Guideline “E” (personal conduct) of the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances, which can be found here.  Keep in mind that security clearance holders are considered to be in a fiduciary relationship with the federal government; anything that could compromise that relationship is viewed with deep concern.

How the Government Finds Out About It

The government typically finds out about problem gambling in one of a few ways: large “cash-in” or “cash-out” transactions reported by casinos to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN); failure by the security clearance holder to pay taxes on gambling winnings, which are reported to the IRS on a special form called the “W2-G”; or, from source interviews conducted with the clearance holder’s associates during a regularly scheduled background re-investigation. I share this not as a means of trying to beat the system, but rather to show those who think they can hide problem gambling that it will eventually catch-up with them.

How and When to Get Help

If you think you might be a problem gambler, don’t assume that seeking out help from a counselor, therapist, or psychologist is going to be what undoes you. I hear this “avoid seeing a shrink” mantra all the time, particularly in the military, and it is HORRIBLE advice. In fact, admitting that you have a problem and seeking out the help you need to address it is a mitigating factor under the adjudicative guidelines – not an aggravating one. When you consider the high likelihood that the government will discover your problem gambling anyway, putting off seeking out help in the hopes that you can avoid drawing attention to yourself is not smart. Get help now and get out in front of the issue.

For more information, check out the National Council on Problem Gambling, including their variety of resources and a 24-hour national helpline here.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at