Sports gambling has victims — and they are typically highly educated young men
Problem gambling experts worried about impact of single-event sports betting
CBC Saskatchewan is looking at single-event sports betting in the province. This story is a part of a series examining its impact.
Read Part 1 here, which focuses on a Conservative MP who says the Saskatchewan government has "dropped the ball" on single-event sports betting. His private member's bill paved the way for its legalization in Canada.
Read Part 2 here about how responsible gambling advocates are keeping an eye on the increasing 'normalization' of sports betting — and worry about the impact of TV ads and endorsements on young viewers.
Single-event sports betting has been legal less than a year in Canada, so there isn't data yet on what its explosion in popularity has meant for problem gambling, but experts in the field say well-educated young men are the demographic most at risk.
Being male, young, single, tech-savvy, and having a higher level of education are "pretty robust risk factors" according to research when it comes to sports betting, said Shauna Altrogge, the director of the Gambling Awareness Program with the Canadian Mental Health Association's Saskatchewan division.
"I think anyone that feels that they have a really solid knowledge base and skills around sports in general, they may have a sort of a sense that, 'I know more than the average person, therefore, I'm going to place that bet because my chances are pretty solid,'" she said.
"So that's a little bit of a worry."
Shelley White, CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council, said that sports betting has some unique risk.
"Because of that illusion of control, because of the social aspect of it, because there is a tendency for people to be drinking or using substances while they're watching sports," she said.
"As well, it's appealing to a younger demographic that also takes more risks."
White said alcohol or substance use while sports gambling, which she doesn't recommend, can "increase the risk dramatically" because it impairs a bettor's judgment while they are already in an elevated emotional state.
'I spiralled for sure'
Dom Luszczyszyn, an NHL writer for The Athletic, provides daily picks, odds, win probabilities and betting advice — which includes telling people not to bet on sports.
Luszczyszyn has designed a statistical model which informs his betting advice and says he has turned a profit in every season in which he's used the model.
In an interview with CBC Sports senior contributor Morgan Campbell in a recent episode of Bring It In, Luszczyszyn was asked if he has ever reached the point where he doesn't want to do that anymore.
Luszczyszyn said he had a lot of moments this past year while he was on a "terrible streak."
"I didn't know when to stop betting. I kept thinking, 'It will get better. It will get better. It will turn. It always turns.' And sometimes it just doesn't," he said.
"When it just kept not turning, I spiralled for sure."
WATCH | NHL writer on the pitfalls of sports betting:
He said he felt that he couldn't miss a day because he got this feeling that if he missed a day, it would be the day where everything turned around or went well.
"And that's definitely the dark place your mind can go and where you start wondering whether this is an addiction you have," he said.
"Every morning I woke up, knew that things might not go great, and just did it anyway. And then at night, I would feel, I guess, depressed again and then I would wake up and do it all over again."
In an April Twitter thread that detailed his experiences this past year, Luszczyszyn also took aim at "experts" who give the public betting advice without showing their previous track record, saying that practice should be illegal.
i'm just extremely concerned about where it's all headed and how many people are going to be hurt financially/mentally. the extreme normalization of gambling – without much acknowledgement of the very real downside of it all – is alarming—@domluszczyszyn
No Hells Angels program for problem gambling
During readings of his private member's bill that eventually led to the legalization of single-event sports betting in Canada, Saskatoon-Grasswood MP Kevin Waugh said mental health and addictions are major concerns when it comes to gambling in any form.
Waugh called problem gambling and addiction "the elephant in the room" but argued since the betting is happening anyway, it's better to make it legal and funnel some proceeds into programs that support gamblers who need help.
"The Hells Angels do not have a program for problem gambling," said Waugh.
Before single-event sports betting became legal in 2021, Canadians were spending an estimated $14 billion a year on single-event sports betting hosted by black market gambling rings and offshore markets.
"None of this money, absolutely none of it, goes back into the public coffers and none of it goes to addressing issues like problem gambling or mental health support," Waugh said.
Now that provinces can regulate single-event betting, Waugh said it's up to the provincial governments that are taking in some of this money to realize that some of it has to go to problem gambling.
When asked by CBC News what he says to people who wonder if all of this is worth the risk, Waugh acknowledged, "There is the dark side to this."
"But there probably was a dark side before when somebody was in their basement betting illegally in this country [on sites] offshore," he said. "And they didn't care if the person was going to go bankrupt."
WATCH | Experts concerned about influence of Ontario sports betting ads:
Jasmin Brown, a Saskatoon-based partner and licensed insolvency trustee with BDO Debt Solutions, said her office definitely sees gambling-related bankruptcy applications but they are still fairly rare.
"I have noticed when watching sports now that there is a lot of advertising for [gambling]," she said. "And it has made me wonder, as I was watching, if it may become more of a prominent issue."
Brown noted the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act specifically addresses cases where the cause of bankruptcy has been brought on by gambling or extravagance of living.
She said in those cases, a discharge from bankruptcy can be refused, suspended or granted conditionally.
"We do see suspensions and potentially a conditional order where the debtor has to meet certain conditions before they can be discharged from their bankruptcy," she said. "They don't get the automatic path [that other debtors do]."
Most Canadians gamble without harm: Responsible Gambling Council
During the committee stage of Waugh's bill last year, the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) told the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights that it believes that gambling is for entertainment and when balanced with other activities, provides minimal risk.
Most Canadians who gamble do so within their means and without harm, it said.
White, the group's CEO, said it's absolutely essential that all stakeholders — including government, operators, regulators and organizations like hers — are committed to working collaboratively to reinforce existing safeguards and to mitigate the risk.
That includes "ensuring that we're not being seduced by the revenue that's being generated through gambling," she said.
"I mean, this is a very new area, and we do need to understand what the impact of these policy changes are having on public behaviour."
White said it is possible to have robust safeguards that put people's health and well-being at the forefront at the same time as generating revenue that will benefit society.
"Right now, we're seeing far too much advertising and marketing as new operators enter the marketplace," she said.
"How do we ensure that we achieve a better balance?"
CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear personal stories from people in the province about their experiences with single-event sports betting. If you are willing to share your perspective in a news story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Morgan Campbell and CBC's Bring It In