Problem gambling

June 17, 2022

It’s never been easier to gamble. While casinos throughout the province were closed during much of the pandemic, gambling websites and mobile apps enabled users to continue gambling from nearly anywhere.

In 2021, single-event sports betting was legalized throughout the country. Fans no longer have to bet on the outcome of at least three games to place wagers.

With unprecedented access to betting comes an increased risk of problem gambling. Who is most at risk, and how can we help those affected?

What is problem gambling?

Problem gambling is defined as gambling that is disruptive or damaging to the person gambling or those around them.

Problem gambling can have significant negative effects – both financially, physically and mentally, says Debra Kostyk, a Registered Social Worker who works with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program.

Financial trouble is often the first sign of a gambling problem. For example, spending paycheques on gambling and then having to scramble to find other ways to pay for basic necessities. Those with gambling problems may also borrow money from friends and family members.

The physical effects of problem gambling are often less obvious.  

As Kostyk explains, “People that develop a problem with gambling report that they slowly lose interest in cooking and eating healthy meals. They grab more junk food and fast food and go for long periods of time without eating while gambling. One of the hallmarks of problem gambling is spending increasing amounts of time gambling which limits the amount of time spent on exercise or physically active hobbies like golfing, sports, hiking, fishing, etc.”  

While online gambling and sports betting don’t require spending time at a casino, the time spent placing bets or closely following outcomes can also take time away from healthy habits.

Along with the financial and physical effects, the mental health impacts of problem gambling can be severe. They include anxiety about financial stressors, guilt about concealing involvement with gambling or spending money meant for necessities, and shame for getting caught up in an activity that results in repeated poor outcomes.

Who is most at risk of becoming addicted to gambling?

People most at risk of developing a problem with gambling include:

  • those that have experienced highly stressed childhoods
  • those that have had parents with their own problems with gambling
  • people that have a mental illness or have a history of addiction to substances
  • those experiencing a difficult time in their lives

Problem sports betting has different risk factors than traditional gambling. According to the Responsible Gambling Council, those most at risk of problem sports betting:

  • are male, young and single
  • are employed full time or in school
  • are high-school educated
  • engage in multiple types of gambling
  • frequently use multiple types of gambling promotions
  • have significant others and friends who favour sports betting

What steps can someone take to prevent gambling addiction?

“The most effective way to prevent a problem with gambling is to not gamble at all,” Kostyk says. “If a person chooses to play, they should educate themselves about the game of choice. Consider what the house advantage is, what the payout rate to player is, how randomness of outcomes is done, and how much the game costs on average per hour.”  

Sports betting adds an additional challenge. Unlike a casino game with pre-determined predictabilities, the human element of sports means no outcome is truly predictable.

If you choose to gamble, Kostyk suggests that you:

  • set up limits before you play
  • always play with someone else
  • decide how much you can afford to spend out of pocket (this does not include the winnings if you happen to win) per session
  • decide how much time you can afford to take to play and still carry out your responsibilities adequately
  • create accountability to make sure that you follow through on these limits. For example, leaving all finance cards at home, telling someone when and where you will be away and for how long. In the case of sports betting, have a loved one monitor your bets or hold on to your phone during games to ensure you don’t go over your limit.

The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Addiction has created Lower Risk Gambling Guidelines:

  • gamble no more than one per cent of household income per month
  • gamble no more than four days per month
  • avoid regularly gambling at more than two types of games

They also recommend gambling less than the guidelines suggest – or not at all – if you have:

  • problems with alcohol, cannabis or other drug use
  • problems with anxiety or depression
  • a personal or family history of gambling problems or substance use disorders

Identifying problem gambling in others

“Problem gambling is incredibly easy to keep concealed from others,” Kostyk says. “Family and friends should suspect that a loved one may be in trouble when the person seems more withdrawn or preoccupied, when the person is more irritable and impatient with others, when the person is more anxious about finances or is pestering people for money.”

If you or someone you know is having a problem with gambling, it’s important to get help.

Seeking help for problem gambling

If you’re looking to get help for problem gambling, you can call the Manitoba Addictions Helpline at 1.855.662.6605 or the Problem Gambling Helpline at 1.800.463.1554.

For tools to limit online gambling, visit:

Gamblock Windows computers and Android phones)

BetBlocker (Windows, Mac and Linux)

If you want to limit problem gambling at a casino, you can have yourself banned from entering the casino for a limited time. Kostyk recommends bringing a person you trust to your casino and asking staff about their self-exclusion program.

Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross

If you're struggling with problem gambling, reach out for help.

Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that's right for you here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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