CBC In Depth
Betting the farm: an overview of gambling addiction
CBC News Online | Updated November 18, 2003

The bright lights and excitement of casinos lure more than just tourists and impulse weddings. For gambling addicts, the sparkling flash and tinkling dice are a haunting temptation. One-armed bandits and blackjack dealers represent more than just a novelty thrill to compulsive gamblers. For them, gambling is an addiction.

Facts and Figures
People who make $20,000 or less spend an average of $211, or 2.6% of their income, on gambling activities.

People who make more than $80,000 average $497, 0.6% of their total income.

Source: Statistics Canada
Casinos aren't the only places you'll find compulsive gambling. Carnival games, scratch tickets and even a community raffle can offer a fix to people mesmerized by games of chance. What for many is one of a host of pastimes has turned from a recreation into a pathological behaviour.

Gambling – in the technical definition – is present throughout society. Investments, usually valued according to their calculated "risk," and other economic speculations involve placing money in support of companies, organizations and ideas. Gaming, such as what occurs in a casino or a bingo hall, is not unlike what takes place on the stock exchange floor.

Most people are able to gamble without risking a psychological addiction. Just as many people can have a glass or two of wine with dinner, so can they buy a lottery ticket, visit a racetrack, or spend an evening playing bingo in the local hall. For others, the tickets, visits and evenings spent wagering are like a money pit into which they end up tossing their entire life's security.

A study from Statistics Canada shows that wealthier people, on average, spend more money on wagering. But gamblers who have less money spend a larger percentage of their income on gaming activities.

Even when that's not the case – when a gambler isn't "betting the farm" – gaming can be a problem. Financial difficulty is just one of many possible symptoms of an addiction.

Defining what gambling addiction is and where it comes from is a point of conflict for psychologists and behavioural scientists. Some of them think that it's a symptom of some other pathological or neurotic behaviour. Others think Lady Luck takes on the importance of a mother figure for a gambling addict.

Statistics Canada says that 6.3 per cent of people are thought to be "at risk gamblers and problem gamblers." Problem gamblers make up 0.6 per cent of the Canadian population. The Statistics Canada definition of a problem gambler is someone who has experienced negative consequences of gaming and who gambles more than five times a year.

Symptoms of Compulsive Gambling:
  • Large amounts of time spent gambling and little time for family, friends or other interests.
  • Begins to place progressively larger and more frequent bets.
  • Debts are growing.
  • Repeated promises to "cut back" on gambling. Compulsive gamblers are unable to stop their behaviour.
  • Lies about behaviour or rejects questioning about it.
  • Frequent high and low moods. If they aren't able to gamble, they may be depressed, restless or withdrawn.
  • Brag about their big wins and downplay their losses. Alternatively, they may keep both their wins and losses secret.
  • Show preference for gambling over special occasions. Gambling addicts may miss or be late for important gatherings and events.
  • Gamblers Anonymous say that gambling is a progressive and incurable illness that can only be remedied by vigilant treatment and self-management. According to them, anyone who participates in gambling binges – no matter how infrequent – is a compulsive gambler who should avoid any form of betting.

    The temptation to bet excessive amounts of money often grows with the odds of winning and the pace that bets are made for a particular game. When the odds of winning are low, the temptation to bet is also low.

    Some psychologists feel that compulsive gamblers can't quit while they're winning because they actually desire to lose their money. They say this is an expression of a desire for punishment for tensions and conflicts in their lives. In other words, on a deep psychological level, these gamblers want to lose all their money so they can reach a state of despair which, at the root of it all, was provoked by a past action that the gambler has not resolved. The flaw in the plan occurs after the loss. When this happens, they are usually tempted to increase their wagers in an effort to regain their losses, leading to more trouble.

    The severity of a gambling problem can range anywhere from the occasional missed utility bill to a life-threatening relationship with bookmakers and organized crime.

    Still, the occasional visit to a casino does not indicate a problem. People who gamble responsibly:

  • Do so for entertainment rather than income.
  • Balance their participation with other activities.
  • Do not gamble alone.
  • Accept losses as the cost of the entertainment.
  • Set a realistic budget and stick to it.
  • Don't borrow money to gamble.
  • Set a time limit for gambling.
  • Take breaks from gambling.

    Whether or not they have a problem, the risks of problems with gambling increase when gamblers are depressed.

  • MENU


    Fact-sheet on gambling from Statistics Canada (pdf format)

    Lottery Canada

    Who regulates gambling in Canada?

    Gambling in Canada: A Report by the National Council of Welfare (Winter 1996)

    Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission

    Responsible Gambling Council

    Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

    eGambling: The Electronic Journal of Gambling Issues

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