The landscape of online sports betting changed drastically for Canadians when the government passed Bill C-218. The bill removed the federal ban on sports betting, allowing sportsbooks and gambling establishments to offer single-game betting.
With the increase in tax revenue, the number of gamblers skyrocketed. According to the report by iGaming Ontario (iGO), the number of player accounts nearly doubled, increasing from 492,000 in Q1 in 2022 to 910,000 by the end of Q3 of the same year.
Unfortunately, the increased exposure adversely affected many new and recurring gamblers, further increasing the risk of developing a gambling addiction or becoming a problem gambler.
To help you learn more about the severity of the issue, we will explore the effect of Ontario’s market regulation on gamblers, tell you a bit more about problem gambling, and how to spot a problem gambler.
We will also show you the potential risks of problem gambling and why it is important to learn how to conquer the shame of online gambling addiction, and show you how to best mitigate the damage caused by gambling.
The effect of Ontario’s market regulation on the public
Bill C-218 passed in June 2021, which allowed provinces to regulate single-game betting as they see fit. Even though parlay betting and horse racing betting were already available to Canadians, single-game betting was a game changer for many gambling operators, and the new law opened a slew of opportunities for online sportsbooks and other online gambling establishments.
The province of Ontario was the first to take the plunge. After months of debating, development, and soliciting feedback, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario issued licenses to several online sportsbooks that became available to consumers on April 4, 2022.
Based on a market performance report by iGaming Ontario, Canadians wagered a little over $4 billion by the end of Q1 in 2022. The number grew to more than $6 billion in Q2 of 2022, and a staggering $11.53 billion by the end of Q3 of 2022.
According to the same market performance report, the number of operators rose from 18 to 36, which resulted in an increase in gambling websites from 31 to 68 by the end of Q3 of 2022. Unsurprisingly, the number of active player accounts also skyrocketed, which doesn’t bode well for gamblers who are at risk of becoming problem gamblers.
The increase in accessibility and the opportunity to bet at any given time present a major issue for those with existing gambling problems, providing them with around-the-clock access to their drug of choice.
According to recovering gambling addicts like Adam Pettle in his interview with the Maclean’s, perhaps the hardest part is the avalanche of ads that came with the legalization of single-bet sports betting.
Every sports intermission or a half-time break is an opportunity for a gambling ad. Well-known hockey players like Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews regularly promote online gambling, influencing gamblers of all age groups, even the youngest of hockey fans.
Sports commentators also reference the sports betting odds frequently, while billboards and gambling posters are everywhere, all of which act as gambling triggers, and can lead to relapse.
The potential dangers of online gambling and sports betting
Sports betting gives gamblers the illusion of control, believing they have an edge over the sportsbook because they follow the teams or are knowledgeable about the sport, thus increasing their odds to win.
Regrettably, that is one of the reasons why sports bettors are at a higher risk of becoming problem gamblers and why they are three times more likely to frequent risky behaviour, compared to those who do not bet on sports.
For a lot of experts in the field, this hardly comes as a surprise, since there have been many studies that reveal the potential dangers of online gambling. For example, a 2008 study revealed that online gambling is more addictive than casino gambling.
Simply put, casino gambling is much more difficult to hide. It also requires significantly more effort since online gamblers do not have to travel to an outside location, wait for a dealer, or even use physical cash.
In contrast, online gambling is accessible and can easily become a part of a daily home routine, allowing problem gamblers to spend more time gambling. In an interview with CBC Radio, David Hodgins, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Calgary stated that slot machines and casino games are some of the riskiest forms of gambling simply because they provide instant results.
According to Hodgins, modern-day sports betting is not all too different from video slots and casino games, seeing how you can bet online, 24 hours a day, on a multitude of different sports and betting markets and, in some cases, even get instant results.
In addition to being more addictive, online gamblers are at more risk than offline gamblers of becoming problem gamblers, according to a study conducted in the province of Quebec in 2009. To make matters even worse, the study shows that online gamblers are more likely to accompany online gambling with other risky behaviours, such as alcohol and cannabis use.
Potential risks of problem gambling
A common misconception about gambling addiction is that the only risk associated with problem gambling is a financial loss, resulting in financial problems like bankruptcy, or even legal problems or imprisonment. However, the reality is much grimmer, and gambling addiction can lead to several other issues.
Mental health and stress
A significant financial loss can result in not being able to pay bills, creating a downward spiritual that leads to even more stress and worry. For some compulsive gamblers, it can also lead to chasing their losses, deepening the problem and worsening their mental well-being.
Gambling affects how we feel, regardless of how often we gamble. However, for those who are already struggling with gambling or showing signs of problem gambling, gambling can lead to a multitude of negative feelings, such as feelings of shame and lack of self-worth. It can also cause low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, and depression.
A gambling addiction can also greatly affect your relationship with people in your surroundings, be it your friends, family, your partner, or even your work colleagues. Furthermore, problem gamblers often blame others for their losses or exhibit behaviour that is out of their character, both of which have adverse effects on their relationship with their loved ones.
Suicide and the thoughts of suicide
In the worst-case scenario, gambling addiction can also lead to suicide or thoughts about suicide. According to a study prepared on the behalf of GambleAware, there is a strong link between gambling problems and thoughts of suicide. The study shows that people experiencing gambling harm have considered taking their own life two times more often than those who are not affected by gambling.
How to spot a problem gambler
Perhaps the scariest part about gambling addiction is that it can often go undetected, resulting in devastating consequences for the person affected by gambling and their closest ones. For that reason, early detection and proper and often professional care are essential in helping with the prevention of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and suicide.
With that in mind, it is important to pay attention to signs that can tell you whether you or your loved one might be a problem gambler.
You might be a problem gambler if you:
- Spend a lot of time gambling. Gambling frequently isn’t necessarily a sign of problem gambling. You can still gamble often and remain in control of your gambling habits. However, if you favour gambling over activities like spending time with your family or friends, then you might have a gambling problem.
- Have growing gambling debts. At the same time, you might be a problem gambler if you keep spending more money than you had originally planned to spend on a bet. Similarly, if you regularly borrow money from family and friends to cover gambling debts or to simply place a new bet, and make excuses as to why you are unable to pay them back the money. Moreover, if you steal money or commit fraud to fun your gambling habits.
- Hope for a lucky break to bail you out. Instead of trying to quit and working on a logical solution, you are chasing losses and hoping for that one big win that is supposed to solve all your financial or other problems.
- Get defensive about your gambling and lie about it. One example is if you have separate bank accounts you use to fuel your gambling addiction, hiding those accounts from your partner or your family members.
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when not gambling. Namely, if your emotional highs and lows are tied to your gambling habits. If you are easily irritable, depressed, anxious, or restless when you are unable to gamble. At the same time, if you sleep less and notice a change in sex drive, or if you are on your emotional highs during a winning streak.
- Continuously look for new places where to gamble or think of new bets to place.
- Have an obsessive need for lucky charms or are extremely superstitious and have rituals you must complete before placing a bet.
- Allow your work and everyday life to suffer due to your gambling habits. Taking time off work to gamble or distracting yourself from important activities in order to place a quick bet.
If you or your loved one frequently exhibits one or more of these symptoms, then you or your loved one might have a problem with gambling. In a situation like that, the best thing to do is seek professional help and speak to a gambling counsellor who can help you out and determine the best course of action.
It is important to remember that directly confronting the person you suspect might have a gambling problem and shaming them for it might have an adverse effect. Instead, you should talk to them and to your loved ones and create a supportive environment that will encourage the person in question to seek professional treatment.
Mitigating the damage caused by gambling
Despite being aware of the risks, many sports bettors rarely give up on their hobby completely, and many of them relapse even after seeking help. According to an article by Psycom, more than 70% of gamblers return to the world of betting.
If you are worried about your gambling habits getting out of hand, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the damage caused by gambling and reduce the risk of developing a gambling addiction.
- Play in licensed and regulated sportsbooks. Go over a list of online sportsbooks verified and reviewed by an unbiased third party to ensure the sportsbook is licensed and is willing to take measures to protect its players. Shady sportsbooks are only after your money and will offer little to no protection from gambling harm, allowing you to make high deposits with credit cards and rack up significant financial debt.
- Limit how much and how frequently you bet. A common misconception about problem gambling is that you have to bet a lot of bets every day to be a problem gambler. The truth is, you are a problem gambler if your betting habits negatively affect your social and personal life, regardless of how much you bet or how frequently.
For example, someone with a lot of money to burn may bet large sums and still be considered a responsible gambler, seeing how they bet with the money they can afford to lose. While responsible gambling is about using gambling for fun and entertainment, problem gamblers see gamble as a need and often gamble with money they require for bills, utilities, and similar.
In case you are a problem gambler struggling with your gambling addiction or you are on your path to recovery, there are a few steps you can take to prevent a relapse.
- Exclude yourself from the sportsbook. Another benefit of playing in a regulated sportsbook is the opportunity to partially or fully exclude yourself from the sportsbook. Many licensed sportsbooks that advocate for responsible gambling are partnered up with organizations that help those suffering from gambling addiction, such as GamCare or BeGambleAware.
- Occupy your schedule. The less time you have to gamble, the less likely you are to partake in gambling. By occupying your schedule with an activity or a hobby, you limit your exposure to gambling. At the same time, you also improve your mental health, especially if you replace gambling with a healthy outdoor activity or exercise, which may help ease depression and anxiety.
- Avoid triggers to the best of your ability. If you suspect your gambling is getting out of hand, you should severely limit your exposure to triggers that can cause you to place a new bet.
Similarly, you should either avoid friends who regularly partake in gambling or simply ask them not to discuss gambling in your presence, remove gambling apps from your phone and use it only when necessary or even switch the channel during sports intermissions to avoid seeing gambling ads.
The online gambling market exploded in Ontario after the legalization of single-game betting and, consequently, heightened the exposure to online gambling and gambling ads for consumers of all age groups, potentially increasing the number of new problem gamblers in the province.
Gambling is here to stay, whether we like it or not, and the most important thing to remember is that you should always gamble responsibly. Limit the time and money you spend on gambling, bet only with the money you can afford to lose, and don’t let it affect your personal life and become a problem.
If you suspect your or your loved one is at risk of becoming a problem gambler and you are unable to control your gambling habits, make sure to seek professional help and contact a qualified gambling counsellor to advise you on which steps to take to prevent gambling harm.
Zuella Montemayor did her degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.