Volume 94, Issue 90

Tuesday, March 13, 2001


Know when to hold and know when to fold - When fun turns to addiction

The brighter side of gambling

A historical habit

Know when to hold and know when to fold - When fun turns to addiction

By Lindsay Satterthwaite
Gazette Staff

Do you drink Tim Horton's coffee only when it's Roll Up The Rim time? Do you buy Super 7 lottery tickets only if the pay-out is at least $10 million? Do you buy raffle tickets to support your friends, or to win the prizes?

Although these things may seem harmless, they are all forms of gambling. Gambling is defined as anytime money or something of value is bet on an event of uncertain outcome. With society's increasing interest in gaming entertainment, new venues are opening up everywhere, increasing the temptation to gamble.

Pathological gambling, however, as defined by the Problem Gambling Research Group, is persistent behaviour in which a person's gambling activities significantly disrupt his or her social, financial, or vocational life.

Richard Garlick, director of communications for the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, confirmed 1996 statistics stating a typical problem gambler is an unmarried male under the age of 30. Problem gamblers he said, prefer continuous modes of gambling, including bingo, horse racing, casinos, and video lottery terminals that pay out on the spot.

In Ontario and Quebec, problem gamblers fall into two income brackets: One higher than average, one lower than average. Problem gamblers also bet for entertainment, to win money, and to get a rush.

Garlick said gambling takes its toll in forms of depression, multiple addictions, stress related physical ailments, family disruption, and crime. The incidence of gambling problems is only two to three per cent in Canada, Garlick added.

Susan Vincent, executive director of the Ontario Problem Gambling Help Line, explained their phone number appears in casinos all over Ontario. The help line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is free, confidential and anonymous, she said. They provide understanding, support and referrals to the appropriate type of counsellor. "We really link callers to the appropriate places," she said.

Vincent explained the help line opened in September 1997 as part of the provincial government's gambling strategy and is funded by the Ministry of Health.

The help line receives 5,700 calls annually, but Vincent confirmed there has not been a statistically significant increase in calls over the years.

Rather, there has been a slow and steady increase. "There are certainly a lot of new gaming venues, so it is still fairly early to tell the effects," she said.

G. Ron Frisch, director of the Problem Gambling Research Group at the University of Windsor, said since Windsor has two gambling venues, it was a natural laboratory for a before-and-after study of gambling effects.

The study concluded there was a large increase in the number of people in Windsor who gamble. Although the risk of developing a gambling problem has not changed, the total number of gambling related problems in the community has increased as a whole with the increase in the number of gamblers.

"Before the casino was built, 66 per cent of adults had previously gambled. This number increased to 82 per cent after the casino was in operation," Frisch said. He also noted there was an increase in gambling disorders from 4,600 people to 6,000 people. However there [were] no statistically significant differences.

Also, prior to the casino opening, there were 50 per cent more gambling problems in males, however, now there is no significant difference between the two sexes, which shows an increase in gambling among women.

People with gambling problems also have significantly higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse and higher rates of depression, suicide and other emotional problems, Frisch confirmed.

Paul Whitehead, a professor of sociology at Western, said addictions develop when behaviour becomes habituated. It is something that is done repeatedly and gambling can be extremely addictive because of rewards such as pay-outs.

"Gamblers don't always lose," he said, also pointing out that their actions can be reinforced so people continue to do it. "The opportunity to win big can be life changing."

Gamblers frequently feel that while their losing streak may be long, there is the chance they can always recover. Sometimes this is just a downward spiral and the gambler loses control, Whitehead said.

The most clear effect of problem gambling is financial. Gamblers can turn to fraud or theft as a result, he explained. Deterioration of relationships, especially family, and emotional unavailability, are just some other problems. Eventually, gambling addictions could manifest into suicide, Whitehead said.

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