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Problem Gambling Resources

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


1. Problem Gambling and the Family

Problem gambling is a quiet, sometimes invisible problem. Unlike those individuals with alcohol or drug abuse problems, people having issues with gambling may not show any physical signs of a problem. A family member with a gambling problem can often go undetected until a legal, financial or emotional crisis occurs.

With the introduction of electronic gambling, spouses and family members frequently do not suspect their loved one has a gambling problem. Individuals who play electronic games tend to develop problems more quickly than people who choose other forms of gambling do.

Warning Signs of a Gambling Problem in your Family

  • Neglecting family and work.
  • Becoming less reliable.
  • Picking fights or arguments more frequently.
  • Increased levels of anxiety or feelings of depression.
  • Lying to cover up financial problems and money-related information, or generally becoming more secretive, and controlling of the family finances.
  • Depleting bank accounts or cashing in bonds, RRSPs, insurance policies, lines of credit.
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

The Emotional Impact

Whether you have just discovered a gambling problem or have been living with it for a while, you may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. Questions you may be asking yourself:

  • "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

Before seeking help, many problem gamblers accumulate thousands of dollars of debt. Financial losses are always felt by the whole family, and create long term financial issues for the gambler and the family.

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.

Get help

You are not alone. Many families just like yours have experienced similar problems and have sought help.

You are not to blame for what has happened within your family and you are not responsible for changing your family member's behaviour. You must take responsibility for your own behaviour and attitudes, and for personally feeling better. You can start this process by:

  • Acknowledging the problem.
  • Regaining control of finances, budgeting and maintaining or establishing family routines.
  • Talking to someone, and accepting support.
  • Planning for you and your family's emotional needs.
  • Establishing a "safety net" of supportive family, friends and community support agencies.

Call the Problem Gambling Help Line at 1-800-306-6789, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor at your local health region.


2. Problem Gambling and Youth

Today's youth are the first generation to grow up with gambling all around them. For many young people, gambling has become a socially acceptable form of entertainment.

Youth gambling often starts as a fun way to pass some time. Playing a game of cards or dice, 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.

It's this need to win that can turn the odd bet into a pattern of problematic gambling behaviour. And, young people who gamble experience problems at levels several times higher than adults who gamble.

Early Exposure and Risk

  • Gambling at an early age increases the risk of developing an adult gambling problem.
  • Studies show that adolescent problem gamblers 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 pros when it comes to arcade video games. They like the flashing lights, clanging bells and fast excitement. Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) have the same appeal. The instant payout, high action and illusion of control reinforce continuous play.

  • Research indicates the more frequently youth play video and arcade games, the more likely they are to believe that playing skills are related to gambling success.
  • This finding is important because we teach our children that practice will make you better.
  • The reality is that the outcome in gambling is based solely on chance and does not involve any level of skill.
  • There is no system, no set of skills, no combination of circumstances and no amount of practice that will make someone a successful gambler.

Warning Signs of a Problem

  • Knowing the point spread on games.
  • Organizing sports betting pools.
  • Showing off new clothes or other desired purchases.
  • Selling or pawning valuables.
  • Stealing money.
  • Skipping classes at school.
  • Forgetting about homework assignments.
  • Lying about where they are going.
  • Mood swings and emotional withdrawal.

If you are concerned about a family member's gambling, call the Problem Gambling Help Line at 1-800-306-6789, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor at your local health region.


3. Problem Gambling and Older Adults

After working hard to make a living and raise a family, many older adults look forward to time for themselves to do the things they want.

Recently, gambling has become an activity many seniors pursue. There is nothing wrong with this, unless gambling becomes the most exciting activity in someone's life. It is important to maintain a balance. Careful decisions are needed about how you spend your time, money and energy.

Your Spouse's Gambling

  • For couples living together for many years, maybe even decades, the thought that your spouse would jeopardize your retirement future is difficult to understand.
  • Life savings may be spent gambling and there is no money for daily living expenses.
  • It is important to know that you are not alone and many other people have faced exactly the same difficulties as you are facing.
  • Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.

Your Adult Child's Gambling

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

  • Many families see paying the gamblers' debts an easy solution to the financial problems.
  • This bailout strategy rarely proves effective in the long run.
  • The gambler is relieved of any responsibility for their gambling debts.
  • More often than not, once the financial pressure is off, most return to gambling believing that the next time they're in trouble, someone will bail them out.

Individuals with gambling problems have high rates of relapse - promises to quit usually do not last. Most go back to gambling.

  • You cannot control your child's behaviour, but you can limit their access to money for gambling.
  • Do not loan/give money to the gambler.
  • The best support you can provide is to encourage them to seek help.

In some situations adult children have power of attorney over their parent's finances.

  • If your son or daughter has power of attorney and you suspect they have a gambling problem, it is important to immediately change that arrangement before your life savings are gone.
  • It is important to act as soon as possible, talk to someone you trust so that your family assets are protected.

If you are concerned about a family member's gambling, call the Problem Gambling Help Line at 1-800-306-6789, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor at your local health region.


4. Problem Gambling and the Workplace

Gambling and gambling-related activities can happen during work hours, so the workplace is 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
    • plotting to get money for gambling.
  • Employees who are family members of a problem gambler may be worrying about finances and holding the family together.
    • These spouses, children or parents may be consumed by the gambling problems they and their loved one face.
  •  As a result of lost time, a company's productivity is often damaged.
    •  The gambler becomes unreliable, misses project deadlines and important meetings and produces inferior quality work.
    •  The gambler or family member may suffer from stress-related illnesses (like depression, anxiety or high blood pressure) that diminish work performance and attendance.
  • Employees with severe problems may commit theft, fraud or embezzlement.
    • Money is the gambler's key to action.
    • Once all legitimate methods to obtain cash are exhausted, the gambler, in desperation, may resort to fraud or theft to acquire cash.
    • The workplace becomes a primary avenue for the gambler to illegally finance their gambling.
    • Gamblers do not see the unauthorized taking of company money as stealing. They see it as "borrowing money" and plan 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 n- “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 Problem Gambling Help Line at 1-800-306-6789, or talk to a problem gambling counsellor at your local health region.

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