For the vast majority of British Columbians, gambling is a popular and problem-free form of entertainment.
Whether they play Lotto 6-49 or Keno, buy scratch-and-win tickets or head off to the casino, close to three-quarters of B.C. residents take part in some form of gambling in any given year, according to Ministry of Finance research.
But for a small percentage of people, what begins as an innocent and enjoyable pastime ends up leading down the path to financial hardship.
Each spring since 2012, the B.C. Lottery Corporation has toured B.C. talking about such issues during Responsible Gambling Awareness Week.
This week BCLC has been in Greater Victoria, starting Sunday with an information kiosk set up at Westshore Town Centre. The crew then moved on to the Gordon Head Recreation Centre, View Royal Casino, The Bay Centre, Save-On-Foods in Saanich, the University of Victoria, Commonwealth Place and the Tillicum Silvercity Cineplex.
The week ends with a free sponsored swim at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre pool tomorrow (April 25) from 1:30 to 4 p.m.
“It all about facilitating getting the information out there for people about where they can get help if they need it, and how to recognize when they need it,” said View Royal Casino general manager Andy Lacroix.
The casino hosted a Monday afternoon event at which people learned about GameSense – BCLC’s flagship program – and some ways to recognize and deal with problem gambling.
According to the Ministry, a 2014 study on gambling in B.C. found that the prevalence of problem gamblers has declined markedly since the last study in 2008. But there are still about 135,000 people who are categorized as moderate- to high-risk problem gamblers – approximately 3.3 per cent of the population.
Victoria-based counsellor Jennifer Taylor says the discovery of a gambling addiction can often come as a shock to friends and family members.
“Gambling is one of those activities that can be held as a secret for a very long time. And usually, it is a financial crisis that brings the problem out of the shadows,” she said.
To stop a gambling problem before it spins out of control, counsellors stress the importance of recognizing the signs and finding treatment early.
Family members should be watchful of long, unexplained absences by their loved ones. Friends and employers may notice a colleague is often strapped for cash, or has become isolated and withdrawn. A person who once gambled for fun might become increasingly preoccupied with applying strategies and exhausting mental energy on their ‘hobby.’
In counselling, Taylor said, “each person decides for themselves what their goals around gambling are, and … how they will get there.” She added that a struggle with gambling addiction can create troubles in other areas of a person’s life, such as communication, relationships and social activity.
“Given that problem gambling usually creates financial strain, having free and freely available services to those at risk or suffering from a gambling addiction is vital.”
The province’s 24/7 Problem Gambling Help Line (1-888-795-6111) offers confidential help from trained professionals in 11 different languages and in text services for the hearing impaired.
Other free counselling services are available through bcresponsiblegambling.ca and information about services can be found at any gaming establishment.