Squid Game Shows the Extreme And Dystopian Side of Gambling Addiction

Written By Katie Kohler on September 30, 2021 - Last Updated on March 7, 2023
Squid Games problem gambling

Responsible Gaming Education Week was September 19-25. Pennsylvania casinos and organizations like the American Gaming Association highlighted ways they raise awareness for responsible play and various resources available.

Their efforts were arguably topped by Netflix’s September 17 release of Squid Game. It is currently the top show on the streaming service. Netflix CEO said Squid Game “might be their biggest show ever.” One of the underlying themes of the nine-episode South Korean survival drama is extreme gambling addiction.

Isn’t the biggest form of problem gambling when you wager your own life for a chance to win money?

(Caution: Major spoilers ahead about “Squid Game.”)

Squid Game shows the extreme (and dystopian) end of problem gambling

If you thought anti-smoking ads where the person is talking through an artificial voice box were jarring…or Adam Sandler was a sad figure of a gambling addict in Uncut Gems, you’re going to need a tougher stomach for Squid Game.

The signs of problem gambling are easy to pick out in Squid Game and obvious early on. Here are the biggest ones.

Stealing to get gambling money

The show’s lead, Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) lives with his mother and has a daughter he hardly sees and can’t support. Early in the first episode, it’s clear the man is in a dire financial situation and a gambling addict. It doesn’t stop him from stealing his mother’s debit card and then using the money to go to the OTB.

Chasing losses

While at the OTB, he loses the first race. Then, while standing in line filling out the racing form to bet on another race, the person behind him in line taps him and says to hurry up since the next race is about to start. Gi-hun goes berserk, smacking himself in the head and screaming that he is trying to think. It’s pretty obvious gambling makes Gi-hun irritable and prone to outbursts.

Willing to risk almost anything

On Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s Responsible Gambling website, it asks the question, “Do I have a gambling problem?” The answer:

Individuals who suffer from gambling addiction are willing to risk almost anything in the hope of a bigger reward. Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Uh, yes. All of the Squid Game players. After the most brutal, nightmare-inducing game of “Red Light, Green Light,” the players voted to end the game. Despite witnessing the carnage under the watchful eye of that creepy animatronic girl, half of them want to stay for a chance to win 45.6 billion South Korean won, or about $38 million by playing children’s games.

But Player 001 breaks the tie and all the players are dumped back into their debt-filled lives. Of course, by the end of Episode 2, Gi-hun and some of the other key players decide to go back. 

Squid Game gambling addicts

Gi-hun‘s character backstory is that of a gambling addict. But the others he forms a “team” with – Sang-Woo, Sae-byeok, Abdul Ali – are willing to die to win the money. Ali is kind and naive, but also desperate. As many “Sae-byeok deserved better memes” there are, she signed the consent form and was willing to bet her life playing child’s games run by masked gunmen to win money. Sang-Woo would risk his life and kill others to win the money which not only makes him a gambling addict but a murderer.

Squid Game VIPs and Front Man

The players aren’t the only ones with gambling addictions. The Front Man and the VIPs are criminals, psychopaths, and way too preoccupied with gambling. These guys were so obsessed with it, that no sporting event or casino could satisfy them.

When sports were shut down due to coronavirus, people wagered on table tennis. We weren’t asking for ESPN to bring us tug-of-war-till-you-fall-to-your-death.

Problem Gambling is a serious issue

Before he ended up on an island playing deadly games, Gi-hun’s financial and family life was in ruins because of his gambling addiction. That is a very real issue – one that legal gambling operators and regulators in the US take seriously.

There are resources available to help:

Lead image c/o Netflix

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist and Managing Editor at PlayPennsylvania. Katie especially enjoys creating unique content and on-the-ground reporting in PA. She is focused on creating valuable, timely content about casinos and sports betting for readers. Katie has covered the legal Pennsylvania gambling industry for Catena Media since 2019.

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