Addiction Experts Warn Against Online Gambling, Casinos

Date: Wed. Mar. 14 2012 9:26 PM ET

Addiction experts are warning against Ontario government’s plans to build a new casino and offer online gaming, saying increased access to betting will only exacerbate problem gambling.

The cash-strapped government announced plans this week to generate an additional $1.3 billion annually from the gambling industry by building a new casino, allowing residents to gamble online and shutting down struggling slot machine halls in border towns.

The plan also includes more lottery retail locations in convenience stores and supermarkets, and expanding private sector gaming at existing casinos.

But those who work with addicts say more options will only increase problem gambling. They say the government is more concerned about profits than investing in treatment programs and facilities.

Gambling interventionist Howard Cohen told CTV’s National Affairs on Wednesday that even though the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation sets aside $40 million each year for problem gambling awareness and treatment, Ontario funds only one treatment centre in Windsor.

What’s worse, he said, that centre only has eight beds specifically reserved for gambling addicts – four each for men and women.

“I accept the fact that there are casinos and that people will go,” Cohen said. “But this is what bothers me the most.”

Cohen said online gambling will mean that “someone can bet $10,000 on the Super Bowl” — a dangerous option for those struggling to keep their gambling under control.

The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health’s Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario has also called on the government to minimize the social harm of gambling wherever possible.

But OLG president and CEO Rod Phillips told National Affairs the province’s aim is to curb illegal online gambling with a regulated approach, not encourage problem gamblers to spend more money.

“We don’t want one person who has a gambling problem gambling at an OLG site,” Phillips said.

He said Ontario spends more than “any other jurisdiction” on problem gambling awareness and treatment. Studies have shown that about 3.5 per cent of the adult population in Canada has a gambling problem, he said.

“It’s a challenge. We always have to be vigilant,” he said.

But Cohen said problem gambling doesn’t just affect the addict – families and friends get dragged into debt as well. He cited studies that suggest a single compulsive gambler affects 18 people, on average.

Cohen offered an example of a 19-year-old man he recently visited in Vancouver, who stole $245,000 from his parents to cover his gambling debts.

“And his parents are still bailing him out,” Cohen said.

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