Gambling

Sometime ago, video lottery terminals (VLT) were in the news. People in general expected VLTs and all types of gambling to disappear.

Did this happen? No.

In fact, Canada experienced a dramatic increase in legalized gambling in the 1990s, primarily because of governments’ need to increase revenue without additional taxation, says Dr. David Korn, health and addiction consultant at the University of Toronto. His article appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Gambling is as old as human history. Casinos have existed at least since the 17th century. In the 20th century, they became commonplace and assumed almost a uniform character throughout the world. In the late 20th century, the governments started to get involved, generating revenue for programs that we would otherwise not be able to afford.

Dr. Korn says that there are now more than 50 permanent casinos (in 7 provinces), 21,000 slot machines, 38,000 VLTs, 20,000 annual bingo events and 44 permanent horse race tracks in Canada.

By 1997, Canadians were wagering $6.8 billion annually on some form of government –run gambling activity, 2.5 times that amount in 1992, with casinos and video lottery terminal accounting for almost 60 percent of government revenue from gambling. In 1997, gambling accounted for at least three percent of total government revenue in all provinces.

Public health problems associated with gambling were brought to the forefront in 1972, when Dr. Robert Custer, a psychiatrist in Ohio, described a medical syndrome called “compulsive gambling”. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association included “pathological gambling” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, categorizing it as an impulse disorder.

A pathological gambler is one who disrupts his personal, family and work related pursuits. There is development of tolerance – need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement – and withdrawal.

About 5.5 percent of general adult population has problems with pathological gambling. The impact of gambling is significant on our vulnerable population such as youth (13.3 percent), women, older adults and aboriginal people, says Dr. Korn. Lower income households spend proportionately more than higher income households on gambling.

Is there help for compulsive gamblers?

Yes. Locally we have Gamblers Anonymous. For help and more information call Lynn (526-7792) or Shirley (527-7673). Gamblers Anonymous runs a 12-step program that has helped many people. If you are or have a tendency to be a compulsive gambler then a phone call is worthwhile.

There is Calgary based Gambling Help Line (1-800-665-9626) which can find you help with Legal Aid, credit counselling, and refer you to one of the rehab centres. These centres run 21-day rehab programs. You can also try AADAC (Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission) at 529-3582.

Gambling continues to increase in Alberta and Canada. Dr. Korn says, “ The cost to families in terms of dysfunctional relationships, violence and abuse, financial pressure, and disruption of growth and development of children can be great.”

If you think you or your loved one have gambling problem then help is only a phone call away. Ask for it!

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