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Impacts of Problem Gambling

Learn about how problem gambling impacts families, youth, older adults and the workforce.


1. Problem Gambling and the Family

Problem gambling can be a quiet, sometimes invisible problem. Some  individuals experiencing alcohol or drug use problems may show physical signs while people with problem gambling may not show any physical signs. A family member with a gambling problem can often go undetected until a legal, financial, or emotional crisis occurs.

The introduction of electronic gambling has created an avenue where gambling activities can occur undetected and spouses and/or family members do not suspect their loved one has a gambling problem. The rise of online gaming has made gambling more accessible than ever before.

Warning Signs of Problem Gambling that may impact a Family

  • Neglecting family and work.
  • Becoming argumentative.
  • Increased levels of anxiety or feelings of depression.
  • Covering up financial problems and money-related information, or generally becoming more secretive, and controlling of family finances.
  • Depleting bank accounts or cashing in bonds, RRSPs, insurance policies, lines of credit or other financial instruments.
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, including suicidal ideation. Help is available immediately, find information about services by clicking here.

The Emotional Impact

Problem gambling in a family can result in feelings of guilt, shame, anger, or fear in the individual experiencing problem gambling or the family member(s) impacted by it. Some questions that may arise are:

  • "How could my spouse/partner do this to me, to our family, to our future?"
  • "How am I going to put my life back together?"
  • "How am I going to pay the bills?"
  • "How could I have believed all those lies?"
  • "How can I ever trust this person again?"
  • "How can I love this person ever again?"
  • "Who should I talk to about this?"

Take the time you need to sort through your feelings. It is important that you look after yourself and find the help and support you need.

The Financial Impact

Individuals experiencing problem gambling tend to accumulate financial debt before seeking help. Financial losses are often always felt by the whole family and create long term financial issues.

If your loved one has a gambling problem, protect yourself and your family by safeguarding your family's financial resources, your home and possessions, and other financial assets. You can begin protecting yourself financially by:

  • Establishing separate bank accounts.
  • Assessing your partner's access to money.
  • Knowing your long-term assets and investments.
  • Determining your average monthly family income and expenses.
  • Listing all valuable possessions accessible to the gambler.
  • Knowing what debts you are liable for.
  • Seeking financial advice from qualified individuals, where appropriate.

Get help

Family members and individuals experiencing the impacts of problem gambling can seek help or support.

Some steps you can take are:

  • Seeking professional help.
  • Regaining control of finances, budgeting, and maintaining or establishing family routines.
  • Talking to someone you trust or a professional and accepting support. Brief therapy is available by clicking here.
  • Planning for you and your family's emotional needs.
  • Establishing a "safety net" of supportive family, friends, and community support agencies.

Call the Saskatchewan Problem Gambling Help Line at 1-800-306-6789 or by visiting their website, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor through the Saskatchewan Health Authority.


2. Problem Gambling and Youth

Today's youth have access to a number of gambling activities, both online and offline. For many young people, gambling has become a socially acceptable form of entertainment.

Youth gambling may start as a fun way to pass time. Playing a game of cards or dice, or betting on sports pools or video games are common activities among teenagers. Hearing about the high scores or big payoffs that friends have from betting is exciting. It's fun to win. The need to win can create a pattern of problematic gambling behaviour. Young people who gamble are at a higher risk of running into problems with gambling.

Early Exposure and Risk

  • Gambling at an early age increases the risk of developing an adult gambling problem.
  • Studies show that adolescents experiencing problem gambling began their gambling at nine or 10 years of age, usually with a parent or other family member.
  • Parental attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour toward youth gambling underestimate the risk associated with early gambling experiences.

Youth and Video Games

Many teenagers are skilled at playing video games. Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) and online gambling have a similar appeal. You may have noticed many of the latest online gambling ads have games that appear to target young people. The instant payout, high action, and illusion of control reinforce continuous play:

  • Research indicates the more frequently youth play video games, the more likely they are to believe that playing skills are related to gambling success.
  • This finding is important because children are generally taught that practice will make them better.
  • The reality is that the outcome in gambling is based solely on chance and does not involve any level of skill.
  • No system, set of skills, combination of circumstances, or amount of practice will make an individual successful at gambling.

Warning Signs that may indicate a Problem

  • Knowing the point spread on games.
  • Organizing sports betting pools.
  • Showing off extravagant purchases.
  • Selling or pawning valuables.
  • Stealing money.
  • Skipping classes at school, missing work or social engagements.
  • Poor or declining performance in school or other activities of interest
  • Lying about where they are going.
  • Mood swings and emotional withdrawal.

If you are concerned about a family member's gambling, call the Saskatchewan Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-306-6789 or by visiting their website, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor through the Saskatchewan Health Authority.


3. Problem Gambling and Older Adults

Gambling among adults and seniors can be a fun activity if handled appropriately. It is important to maintain a balance when making decisions about how you spend your time, money, and energy.

Adult Child's Gambling

Older adults can be affected by problem gambling when their adult child has a problem.

Many families see paying the debt accumulated by an adult child as an easy solution to the financial problems. This bailout strategy rarely proves effective in the long run. The adult child experiencing problem gambling is relieved of any responsibility for their gambling debts. More often than not, once the financial pressure is off, gambling activities resume with the belief that they will be bailed out the next time as well.

Individuals experiencing problem gambling can easily fall back into patterns of problematic gambling behaviours without appropriate help or support.

You cannot control your adult child's behaviour but you can do the following:

  • Limit their access to money which can be used for gambling activities.
  • Do not loan or give money carelessly which can be used for gambling.
  • Provide support and encourage them to seek help.

There are situations where adult children have power of attorney over their parent's finances:

  • If an adult child has power of attorney and is suspected to have a gambling problem, it is important to immediately change that arrangement. Seek legal advice from an appropriate individual. More information is available or calling the Public Guardian and Trustee at 306-787-5424
  • It is important to act as soon as possible and ensure the family assets are protected.

4. Problem Gambling and the Workplace

Gambling and gambling-related activities can happen during work hours, so the workplace may sometimes be used as a shield to hide the problem gambling from family members.

Employers and employees can develop a greater awareness of the signs associated to a gambling problem.

How Problem Gambling Affects the Workplace

The effects of a gambling problem almost always spill over into the workplace through lost time, lost productivity and in desperate situations the gambler may resort to theft.

  • Individuals with gambling problems become completely pre-occupied with gambling. The workday is often spent:
    • in the act of gambling,
    • planning the next gambling opportunity, or
    • thinking about how to get money for gambling.
  • Employees with loved ones/family members experiencing problem gambling may be worrying about finances and holding the family together. These employees may be consumed by the impacts of problem gambling on the family.
  • As a result of lost time, a company's productivity is often damaged.
    • The employee experiencing problem gambling may become unreliable, miss project deadlines and important meetings or produce inferior quality work.
    • The employee who may be experiencing problem gambling or have a family member with problem gambling may suffer from stress-related illnesses (such as depression, anxiety, or high blood pressure) that diminish work performance and attendance.
  • Employees with severe problems may commit theft, fraud or embezzlement.
    • Individuals with problem gambling may need access to money to participate in gambling activities.
    • When all legitimate methods to obtain cash are exhausted, the individual with problem gambling, in desperation, may resort to fraud or theft to acquire cash.
    • The workplace can become a primary avenue for the individual with problem gambling to illegally finance their gambling activities.
    • Individuals with problem gambling may not see the unauthorized taking of company money as stealing. They may see it as "borrowing money" with the intention to replace it when they win.

What You Can Do

You can express your concerns in a caring and supportive manner. Do not diagnose the problem or tell the individual what to do.

  • Be clear, non-judgmental and speak only for yourself – “I've been noticing changes in your work, and I am worried about you.”
  • Use work-related observations - “I see you coming in very late from lunch every day, too distracted to work all afternoon.”
  • Be positive – “Your work is usually so good, and you always meet your deadlines.”
  • Explain how the problem affects you – “I had to reassign two of your projects, because you missed three deadlines.”
  • Be clear about your position – “Everyone is stretched to the limit, I need you to pull your weight.”
  • Respect personal boundaries – “I don't want to pry into your life, but I had to let you know I am concerned. I would be happy to talk to you about anything that is troubling you.”
  • Provide information, not advice – “Here is some information about available problem gambling resources. Another resource available to you is our Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) professional, here is their name and number.”
  • Be prepared for denial or a hostile reaction – “It must be uncomfortable to hear this. It's difficult for me to bring it up, but I am concerned about you.”

(Adapted from "Are you concerned about a co-worker's gambling?" Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.)

If you are concerned about a co-worker's gambling, call the Saskatchewan Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-306-6789 or by visiting their website, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor through the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

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