The Truth About Problem Gambling in Canada

Here's a fast fact for you: in 1992 Canadian provincial governments raked in $2.73 billion running lotteries, video lottery machines, casinos, and non-casino slots. Sixteen years later, that number had skyrocketed to over $13.67 billion.

Today, that number is even higher. And when you include the amount of money made off Canadians by offshore online casino companies (many of which run their servers off a Native Canadian reserve outside of Montreal) the number is staggering.

How big? Well, consider this. Casino gambling now generates about the same amount of revenue as movies, television, music, and pro sports do. Throw all forms of online gambling into the mix and they have those other industries beat.

These billion-dollar figures would be upsetting if it weren't for one thing. People are actually winning by gambling. That's true at casinos. And that's true online. In fact, many online casinos have payout percentages as high as 97%. But those seemingly high payout percentages have caused a problem. In trying to win big at land-based casinos, and tempted by online sites boasting big payouts, more and more Canadians have identified themselves as problem gamblers.

What is problem gambling

problem gamblerA problem gambler isn't someone who loses too much. And just because you've won tons of money doesn't mean you don't have a gambling problem. No, problem gambling is a mental health issue that runs deeper than winning or losing.

Problem gambling can affect a person's life. When you have a gambling problem, gambling takes over your whole world. It could get in the way of work, school, or your social activities. It could affect your marriage or relationship. It could damage your reputation. It could cause problems with family members or friends.

And problem gambling can do all this because, for the problem gambler, cards, dice, and spinning reels steal the spotlight while the important things in life fall out of focus and don't get the attention they deserve.

Those wins and loss swings can also make a problem gambler moody, leading to job loss and conflicts with friends in family. And when a problem gambler experiences significant financial loss, they could lose their car, house, and savings - and ultimately their marriage.

Problem gambling by the numbers

According to a recent problem gambling report, about 3% of Canadian adults are affected by problem gambling that can be described as either moderate to severe. The same report said that approximately 70% of Canadian adults have gambled.

How do those numbers break down? According to Statistics Canada, there are about 26.6 million Canadians over the age of 20 (the legal gambling age varies from 18 to 19, depending on the province, and Statistics Canada lumps 15-19 year olds into one population snapshot, so we'll use the age of 20 as our benchmark). If 70% of Canadian adults have gambled, we're looking at 18.6 million Canadians. And if 3% of them have been affected by problem gambling, we're looking at about 500,000.

So does that mean that half-a-million people have a gambling problem? Not really. The 'affected by problem gambling' number includes people who haven't gambled at all. That's because problem gambling doesn't just affect the person holding the chips, it affects their friends, family members, and colleagues. So one person with a gambling problem can affect two, three, five, or even 10 other people who might be casual gamblers or non-gamblers.

Signs of problem gamblers

You're firedThere's nothing wrong with hitting a casino. Whether it's Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Caesars Windsor, another land-based casino across the country, or an online casino, gambling can be fun. But if you find yourself unable to stay away from the gaming floor or from an online casino, you should be concerned.

You might have a gambling problem if you:

  • Stopped doing something you used to enjoy, just because you'd rather gamble.
  • Are constantly late for school or work, because of gambling.
  • Miss paying bills, either because you forgot or because you've spent your budget money at the casino.
  • Avoid meeting personal responsibilities or family obligations because you'd rather gamble.
  • Stop taking care of your kids to focus on gambling.
  • Are more focused on organising sports and lottery pools at work, than actually doing your work.
  • Play online casino games at work, and not just on your lunch hour.
  • Withdraw from family and friends, and skip socialising with people because you'd rather watch cards hit the felt.
  • Have unexplainable mood swings.
  • Are constantly bored when not gambling.

Options for problem gamblers

If you think you have a gambling problem, online casinos actually do a much better job of getting you help than their land-based counterparts. That's because, aside from a small responsible gambling office that lives outside of the casino entrance, live casinos in Canada don't do a whole lot to help problem gamblers. Sure, they claim to have programs in place, whereby if you add your name and photo to a list, the casino won't let you in. But there have been reports of those programs being ineffective.

Online casinos, on the other hand, have the benefit of technology to keep problem gamblers in check. If you're playing at an online casino, there lots of things you can do to get help with problem gambling.

If you find yourself unable to stay away from the gaming floor or from an online casino, you should be concerned.
  • Problem Gambling? There's an app for that - Canadian casino players who think they have a gambling problem used to have to resort to picking up the phone and talking to someone about their problem. But today, they can use their phone without having to say a word.

    A new smartphone app for those experiencing problem gambling called Monitor Your Gambling & Urges is available to Canadian online casino players who think they might be gambling too much. The app helps anyone - including those without a gambling problem - monitor and track their urge to gamble, right from their mobile phone. It's available for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android users.

    The app reports things like the date and time a casino player had the urge to gamble, what triggers that urge to gamble, what activities the problem gambler do instead of gamblers, feelings if the problem gambled or didn't gamble, and the consequences if the problem gamble did or didn't gamble.

    The problem gambling app also tracks wins and losses, so problem gamblers who think they have an online casino gambling problem can review their data and take the necessary steps. In a nutshell, it's a great self-help tool for problem gamblers.
  • Filter out gambling sites - Gamblock and Bet Filter are two apps that problem gamblers can install to keep them away from online gambling sites like poker rooms and online casinos. They're easy to install and they work quite well. But remember, if more than one person in your household gambles, and if most of those gambling are responsible, the filtering casino software might not be an ideal solution for problem gamblers and their family.
  • Lower your daily, weekly, and monthly limits - Most online casinos already come with deposit limits - something that's useful for those being affected by problem gambling and those without a problem. Management usually limits daily deposits to a few hundred for new players. They also set weekly and monthly limits. The maximums usually rise as the casinos become more familiar with players. But you can actually ask the online casino to lower your limits. Some casinos well let you configure your betting limits based on deposits. Others will let you set daily and maximum betting limits. If your favourite online casino doesn't offer the problem gambler limiting functionality within the software, just contact customer service and tell them you'd like to lower your limits.
  • Tell your online casino you have a problem - Think you have a gambling problem? Try contacting your online casino management. You can ask them to shut down your account for a period of time. It could be 24 hours. It could be a week. It could be a month. The choice is totally up to you.

The gambler's fallacy

burning cashHave you ever heard a casino player say they're due for a win because they've hit a string of losses? Maybe you've heard someone at a roulette table say so. Or maybe you've said so yourself.

The belief that an outcome of something so seemingly random can become less random and more predictable just because something has happened, or has failed to happen, is called the gambler's fallacy.

Suppose you've kept betting on black at the roulette wheel. And red has popped up seven times in a row. If you're a problem gambler, you might think that betting big on black is the way to go because it's about time you win. That's wrong. Your odds of hitting black are the same as they are of hitting red. The fact that you hit red seven times in a row doesn't change the randomness of the roulette wheel. Believing so is wrong, but lots of gamblers still commit the gamblers fallacy.

Sometimes, it makes gambling more fun. But if you're the type of online casino player who is constantly chasing losses by betting big because you're due for a reversal of fortune, you may have a gambling problem.

Finding help for your problem gambling

If you think you have a gambling problem, or if you know someone who does, you can get professional help through a number of Canadian provincial and national organisations.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse is a great place to start. Remember, for some, gambling can be just as addictive as a drug. The national addictions agency can steer you towards getting the help you need. Find them online at

Gamblers Anonymous offers problem gamblers a great support network for talking about and dealing with their gambling problems. Discover more about them at Most provincial governments in Canada operate a responsible gambling department. The government of Ontario, Canada's largest province, runs It's a great resource for residents of any province in Canada who think they might have a gambling problem.

Problem Gambling Helpline: There are also a number of regional help centres for those afflicted with problem gambling. For instance, is located in London, Ontario and offer help to all Canadian residents. They can be contacted at (519)439-0174 or toll-free 1-888-230-3505.

GA Montreal: Residents of Montreal are invited to seek help through Gamblers Anonymous Montreal. Their contact numbers are (213)386-8789 or in Montreal (514)484-6666. Their meetings are generally held at Our Lady of Fatima Church, 875 Marcil Laurin, St-Laurent, Montreal.

We recommend reading through these resources, even if you don't have a gambling problem. They offer some great advice for responsible gambling, so you can enjoy online casino games the way they were supposed to be enjoyed.