Episode 28

Is Gambling really a problem?


June 15th, 2019

30 mins 33 secs

Season 1

Your Hosts

About this Episode

It doesn’t take a lot of work to find that there are places all around us where people have the opportunity to participate in gambling activities. The gambling industry is like most other businesses. It provides a service (places to gamble) and hopes to make as much money as it possibly can. Gambling is one of the largest entertainment industries in Canada. It brings in more money than television and movie rentals and more than the combined revenues from magazine and book sales, drinking places, spectator sports, movie theatres and performing arts. According to statistics posted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in 2005–2006 government-operated gambling venues in Canada brought in over $13 billion. What makes someone who gambles develop a ‘gambling problem’? What turns a leisure activity into a problem that can affect the participant and also their families or the people close to them? Not all people who gamble excessively are alike, nor are the problems they face. People with gambling problems are found in all age groups, income groups, cultures and jobs. Some people develop gambling problems suddenly, others over many years. Problem gambling may be seen as being on a continuum, so gambling behaviour can be measured from mild to severe, when describing the extent of a ‘gambling problem’. Therefore it is difficult to identify clearly, the prevalence of the problem. There have been a number of efforts recently to redefine problem gambling from the perspective of community harm, as well as personal harms, trends that may dramatically change “prevalence rates” over the next few years. In this video, the presenter, Brenda Teasell helps to put into focus the concept of gambling and how it is placed within our society. She allows us to re-examine the idea of gambling and its prevalence in our daily activities and surroundings. Gambling is a complex issue both for society and the individuals affected. Brenda speaks about the risk factors for problem gambling, some of the indicators of problem gambling and how distress and crisis line workers can help when connecting with people concerned about their own gambling behaviour or that of someone close to them. Questions for Further Consideration Language As a call responder working on a distress/crisis line, it is very important to be aware of the language that is used when communicating with callers on the line. Consider the difference between references to the terms ‘problem gambler’ or ‘someone with a gambling problem’. Which is preferable and why? Gambling is viewed on a continuum and includes people who participate in; no gambling, social gambling, serious social gambling, harmful gambling and problem gambling. ‘Problem Gambling’ is a term that is used to describe someone with a major gambling problem. However, one does not have to wait until the problem appears insurmountable before getting help. When talking about someone whom you believe has a problem with gambling, it is appropriate to use the term “someone with a gambling problem”. By using this term you avoid labeling the individual as a problem, and focus on the behaviour that is causing problems. This focus can help to reduce judgment, blame and stigma and allow the person to focus on identifying solutions that will help reduce the behavior that is creating problems. Common myths Before we take on the role of a distress/crisis line worker on the phone lines, it is important to be aware of what our own beliefs and understandings are related to certain issues. In the area of gambling, there are some common myths that should be clarified and understood. Beyond those that are outlined below, what are your beliefs, and how accurate are they? MYTH: You have to gamble every day to have a problem with gambling. FACT: A person with a gambling problem may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem when it causes problems, such as financial loss. MYTH: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the person who is gambling can afford it. FACT: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can lead to relationship breakdowns, loss of important friendships and difficulty at work or school. MYTH: Partners of those with a gambling problem often drive them to gamble. FACT: People with a gambling problem may rationalize their behaviour by blaming others. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. Taking responsibility is an important process in overcoming the problem. MYTH: If a person with a gambling problem is in debt, you should help them take care of it. FACT: Quick fix solutions may appear to make the situation better, but for someone with a gambling problem it may feel like “a win”. Paying off the person’s debt can relieve stress and anxiety short term, but it does not solve the person’s gambling problem. It is important that the person seeks help. Questions you can ask What questions can you ask if you suspect that someone you are talking to might be experiencing problems due to their gambling behaviour? "Have you ever felt the need to hide how much and/or how often you gamble?" A person with a gambling problem may gamble in secret or lie about how much they gamble, feeling others won’t understand. They may even hope to surprise their loved ones with a big win. "Do you ever spend more than you can afford to lose?" A person with a gambling problem may find it difficult to stop gambling once they have started. They may not want to leave the gambling venue until all their money is gone. "Have you ever borrowed money or not paid bills in order to gamble more?" This can be a red flag when someone gambles with money they don’t have or can’t afford to lose - money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for their children. They may sincerely believe that gambling more money is the only way to win lost money back. However, the odds are, the longer they play the more likely they will lose more money. Take note of whether family and friends are worried about the person. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. They should take a hard look at how gambling is affecting their life. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older adults are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they've gambled away their inheritance. But it's never too late to make changes for the better.