In my opinion, these are two of the most important questions any gambler can ask themselves.

Why? Because anyone who gambles can develop problem gambling behaviours. Since March is problem gambling awareness month, I figured there’s no better time to share my thoughts, what I’ve learned, and tips on the subject.

*Note: I am not a therapist or counsellor. This post is meant to provide general information and all opinions are my own. Please do not take what is provided here as advice. If you are concerned about your or someone else’s gambling, please seek support from a certified professional – more on where to find legitimate help below.

What is problem gambling?  

It is engaging in repetitive gambling behaviour even though by doing so it causes harm and negative consequences. It is also called ludomania, gambling addiction, compulsive gambling, degenerate gambling, and gambling disorder.

Can anyone develop a gambling addiction?

Yes. Gambling addiction does not discriminate. A person of any age, gender (or how they identify), culture, race, religion, financial status (rich or poor), education, etc. can develop problem gambling behaviours.

That said, certain individuals are at a greater risk of developing gambling addiction than others. Some risk factors include (but are not limited to – and do not always apply):

Ultimately, what might cause a person to become a compulsive gambler isn’t entirely understood by medical professionals. As the Mayo Clinic notes, like most addictions, problem gambling may result from a combination of factors including biological, environmental, or even genetics.

Problem Gambling - How Would I Know - MGJ

How do I know if I have a gambling problem?

Here are some problem gambling signs (in no particular order):

  • Lying about your gambling to others.
  • Feeling irritable or restless when not gambling.
  • Obsessed with gambling (you lack the impulse to stop and constantly think about gambling).
  • Chasing losses by gambling more.
  • Feeling unhappy, depressed or hopeless and using gambling as a “feel-good” escape to cope with these negative emotions.
  • Your loved ones think you have a problem.
  • Using money that should be spent on life expenses (covering rent, mortgage, bills, etc.) to gamble.
  • Borrowing money to gamble.
  • Stealing money to gamble.

If you think you might be struggling with problem gambling, one of the first steps is to take what is commonly called a “self-assessment test”.  Some online casinos have these tests available in their responsible gambling sections. If not, you can also find them for free online.

What happens if problem gambling isn’t treated?

Compulsive gambling can lead to serious complications that can result in long-lasting consequences for your life (or even someone else’s that you care about).  Consequences of problem gambling may include:

  • Financial problems
  • Bankruptcy
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor mental and physical health
  • Poor work performance
  • Job loss
  • Crime (theft, embezzlement, etc.)
  • Legal problem or imprisonment
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or suicide attempts

How do I find help for problem gambling?

Never try to solve your problem gambling behaviour on your own. Like alcoholism and drug addiction, gambling addiction isn’t something you can overcome on your own. Counselling is the best way to get the constructive help that you need. Seek support from a professional organization dedicated to assisting people who struggle with gambling disorder.

Get Help for problem gambling - MGJ

Examples of organizations for Ontarians are:

It’s also a good idea to talk with a loved one – or someone you are close to and trust – about your worries and struggles. Support from your inner circle can be highly beneficial to your recovery.

How do I stop gambling?

Quitting gambling is about recognizing and accepting that you have an addiction, taking responsibility for your behaviour, and committing to change.

There are different things you can do to avoid gambling. Some recommendations I’ve come across include:

Remember that problem gambling is an addiction and is not something that goes away or anyone just gets over. For most people it is with them for life and is an ongoing challenge. If you should have a relapse (gamble again after choosing to stop), accept that you have, forgive yourself, and begin your recovery steps again. Having lifelong support can help you during challenging periods and keep you on track.

What should I do if someone I love has a gambling problem?

Some recommended tips I found online from various support sources include:

  • Don’t lie about your feelings, but don’t go on the attack – Be open and honest with the person without being judgemental and accusing. Although you might feel hurt or angry, it is important to remember that gambling addiction is a disease. The compulsive gambler is not intentionally trying to hurt themselves or you. Carefully and lovingly tell them how you feel their gambling is negatively affecting them and you. Let them know you’re on their side and want to support them in getting help.
  • Know that it’s not your fault – Never forget that you are not to blame for their actions. Understand that you can help them, but you cannot change their behaviour. It is up to the person to recognize that they have a problem and take responsibility for their behaviour. When they are ready to change, you can support them on their journey.
  • Take control of finances – Take steps to avoid financial harm and protect your finances. These steps may include making a family budget, tracking all expenses, opening up separate bank accounts, cancelling shared credit cards, getting legal financial advice to protect yourself and your family. Resources like Credit Canada may help.
  • Open up to friends and family – Talk to people you trust and love about your situation and warn them not to lend money to the person struggling with gambling. Do not face your situation alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for. You deserve support too.
  • Seek support from a professional counsellor – The same organizations I’ve previously mentioned that can offer support (e.g. ConnexOntario, Responsible Gambling Council, etc.) to those with problem gambling can also offer support to their loved ones. They can provide you with sensible tips on what to do.

Problem Gambling Support - MGJ

How do I prevent problem gambling from happening to me?

There is no proven way to prevent problem gambling. The best thing to do is to educate yourself about the subject and be aware of the potential risk factors.

Beyond that, it’s always a good idea to gamble responsibly when you play. There are many ways to do this. The following are a few tips I’ve found useful that you might find useful too.

Tips on how to gamble responsibly

🌟Track and budget for all your gambling

There are all different types of gambling including:

It’s important to know all the different ways you regularly gamble (online and offline) so that you realistically know how much time and money you spend on each activity. Your entire gambling budget for the month should include all types of gambling in which you intend to participate.

For instance, while I play at the online casino, I also play lotto 6/49 most weeks and buy the occasional scratch ticket, so all three need to be a part of my total gambling budget for the month.

🌟It’s not about quitting while you’re ahead, it’s about limits

You’ve probably heard the saying to “quit while you’re ahead”, but this doesn’t always work when gambling. The reality is that every gambling session is unique. Depending on what happens, you might make different choices. For instance:

  • You hit a losing streak – If this happens, you might quit your current gambling session once your bankroll drops below a certain amount or runs dry.
  • You win, but you don’t win much – Sometimes, winning a small amount in a very short period of time isn’t enough to make you want to quit. For instance, if you start with a $10 bankroll, deplete it to $5 over the course of 2 minutes of playing, and then immediately win $15 – are you really going to quit while you’re ahead by $5 after two minutes of play? You might, and that’s cool. But most gamblers (including me) likely won’t.
  • Play limit – Decide how often you will play per month (e.g. once a day, once a week, twice a week, etc.). Never play more times in a month than what you originally decided. To help you keep track, make a record of every time you play.
  • Time limit – Set a time for your playing session (e.g., 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). Once that time is up, stop gambling, regardless of whether you are winning or losing.
  • Budget limit – Know how much you can spend in a month on gambling. Then, from this amount (e.g. $200), decide how much you will reserve to deposit for each playing session (e.g. $50 a week). If you lose the amount you deposited, stop playing. Do not make another deposit until your next playing session.
  • Loss limit – Decide how low you will let your bankroll drop (e.g. $20) during a playing session before stopping. Once it reaches that limit, stop playing.
  • Win limit – Decide how much you’d like to win before calling it quits (e.g. $200). If during your playing session you reach this amount or exceed it from a bet, stop playing (even if it’s only been 2 minutes) – AKA – quit while you’re ahead.

These limits may seem restrictive, but they’re important to have because they’re about staying in control. They ensure that you:

  1. Never lose more than you wish to spend on gambling
  2. Play longer than you originally intended

Tracking how often you gamble, how long you gamble when you do, and how much you spend on this activity, will help you to know what regular gambling behaviour looks like for you.

🌟Use the responsible gambling tools provided by online casinos

Legitimately run online casinos in Ontario are committed to responsible gambling. As part of their commitment, they offer tools to help their players stay in control of their play and protect against problem gambling. Among the free available tools include:

  • Time tracking – A time is displayed on every game played so you always know how long you’ve been playing.
  • Setting limits – Deposit limit, bet limit, play time limit, loss limit, etc.
  • Self-assessment test – A short questionnaire to evaluate your gambling behaviour.
  • Taking breaks – A cooling off period that locks you out of your account for 24 hours, a week, month or longer (you decide).
  • Self-exclusion – Voluntarily restricting your access to your account for 6 months up to 5 years.

🌟Even if you play for free, play responsibly

Also, keep in mind that free-play games and real-money games are not created equally. In many cases, free-to-play games are designed to result in more winnings to keep players interested and engaged. In short, don’t expect that your real-money experience will match success you’ve had from playing the game for free.

🌟Don’t hide your gambling from others

Gambling shouldn’t be kept secret from the people you care about. This is a perfectly legal activity for Ontarians aged 19+. If you feel you must hide your gambling, lie about it, or are ashamed of it, you need to take a break from playing and find out why you feel this way. Don’t ruminate alone. Talk to others, share your perspective, and listen to theirs.

🌟Don’t ignore your concerns, ever

If you’re worried (even a little bit) about your gambling behaviour/habits, don’t ignore it. Take a break from gambling for a while and take a self-assessment test. Even if it turns out you were just overthinking, it’s worth it to be honest with yourself and be safe.

Mia’s final thought: gambling is entertainment, not an investment

I think it’s really important to recognize and accept the reality of what gambling is – it’s a form of entertainment we spend money on.  Sometimes you might win money, but there is no guarantee you will win.

I think of gambling like going to the arcade. I put money into the machines to play a game. What I’ve purchased is entertainment; the enjoyment of playing the game. The money I’ve put into the machine is gone.

Obviously, the added fun of gambling compared to other forms of entertainment you can buy is that there is a chance to win money. However, no matter how much you might hope you’ll win, you should never expect to get any of the money you gamble back. It’s why we should never gamble more than we can afford to lose, because the money we’ve put into gambling is already lost.  Whatever you might win back is separate from what you paid into the entertainment.

Never forget that, in the long run, for the average gambler (that’s all of us who don’t gamble professionally for a living) who gambles regularly (daily, weekly, or monthly), the total amount we spend will be more than the total amount we win back. It’s not a scam, it’s how gambling works and how gambling companies stay in business.

The cold hard truth is that gambling and losing at a legitimately run establishment doesn’t mean the casino, poker room, sportsbook, lottery, etc. ate your money and you’re owed it back. It means you gambled, and you lost. If that isn’t something you can accept, you’re likely better off spending your money on some other form of entertainment you’ll enjoy more.

My preachiness aside, problem gambling is very serious and should not be ignored. If you struggle with gambling addiction it’s important to know that you’re not alone, you’re not a bad person, and there is help. You deserve help and you deserve to be happy.

Until next time, good luck and have fun.

Mia 👩‍💻

***All links and images in this post are for informational purposes only.

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