Skip to main content

300,000 Canadians at 'severe' or 'moderate' risk of gambling problems

Share

While problem gambling affects a small minority of the Canadian population, more than 300,000 are at “severe” or “moderate risk” for gambling-related problems, according to a Statistics Canada study of gambling behaviour.

Findings from the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Gambling Rapid Response, released earlier this week, included interviews with over 26,000 respondents and are designed for longer-term research.

Despite being conducted before the pandemic, study authors note the findings provide “an important baseline” of gambling problems in Canada and make it possible to monitor changes that might occur as a result of new federal legislation that came into force in 2021, allowing single event sports betting.  The authors say such studies could help develop more effective education, prevention, and treatment strategies for those who gamble and those who face gambling-related problems.

“While it is hard to predict the future, it is possible that changes after 2018 could lead to higher percentages of Canadians gambling,” Michelle Rotermann, one of the co-authors of the report and a senior analyst in the Health Analysis Division of Statistics Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday. She said the findings from the report provide a good baseline for longer-term research and capture any changes after 2018.

According to StatCan, gambling was more prevalent among middle-aged Canadians aged 45 to 64 in comparison to other age groups. This age group was most likely (72.3 per cent) to have gambled in the past year.

Can't see the graphs below? Click here

When it comes to gambling problems, the study said it was unclear exactly why more males than females developed them —although marketing, stigma, and a lack of social acceptance of gambling by women in the past have kept their participation lower. Another reason for the difference, Rotermann said, was that addictive behavior such as drug and alcohol use, which was more common amongst men than women.

Female gamblers were more inclined towards instant win lottery or online games than males. However, lottery or raffle tickets remained a popular gambling activity for both male and female respondents in 2018.

Males were three times as likely to bet on sports and twice as likely to bet at a casino table (including online).

PANDEMIC AND LEGISLATIVE CHANGES

The 2018 data provides what the trend may look like after COVID-19 and the introduction of a new law.

Sports betting, for example, could gain popularity given the recent developments in the gambling industry. “If that is the case, a priority for both research and policy will be determining if greater popularity for such activities is associated with an increase in the prevalence in gambling problems,” the report said.

Valerie Di Gregorio, manager of Counselling and Treatment at CMHA Thames Valley Addiction & Mental Health Services, London, told CTVNews.ca that while sports betting has been around for years –accessibility and modernization mean more exposure and opportunity for gambling.

But there are standards and practices and programs such as self-exclusionary programs that can support one’s gambling recovery and mental health.

Pandemic-induced stress and disruption may have influenced gambling activities, along with alcohol and drug consumption. Even though it was too early to determine, the report said that access to gambling platforms/websites, and an increased amount of time spent online during lockdowns, could have resulted in growing risks of problem gambling—which is recognized as a public health concern.

With lockdowns and casinos closed, some gamblers resorted to online gaming to place their bets and this may result in a shift from the 2018 gambling habits.

During COVID-19, data gathered by Statistics Canada in a separate report in 2021 showed that 90 per cent of younger Canadians aged between 15 and 34 had done more activities online than pre-COVID.

But besides the pandemic, evolving gaming technologies and changes in the legislative framework may also influence gambling habits in the future, the report said.

Laithwaite said legalization makes it more desirable and this could lead to more people indulging in gambling.

Legalization of single-event sports betting in Canada under the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act in late August 2021 allows provinces and territories to offer and regulate the activity as they see fit and led to the launch of Ontario’s igaming market in April 2022.

Nearly two months after a regulated market for online gambling was launched by the Ontario government, traffic for online bets increased sharply. It flooded the market with advertising and promotional messages—encouraging players to sign up on a number of platforms, according to a report by Ipsos.

Laithwaite said betting ads on platforms such as television or streaming channels just make it really easy for someone with pre-existing mental health or anxiety to buy into it.

“We forget that this is actually a business and the business is to make money,” she said.

According to a report by Deloitte, under the new Act, an estimated $14 billion spent annually would move from unauthorized and unregulated controlled markets to legal sectors, where it can be monitored and taxed appropriately. About 84 per cent of ardent bettors, surveyed by Deloitte last year, said that they’ll definitely or probably play other online casino games through sports-betting sites after the legislative changes.

The survey showed that the most popular platform for ardent bettors for sports betting was regular television. This could be partly due to the heavy volume of advertising on sports betting showing up on TV screens.

“As more Canadians become aware of Ontario’s regulated market situation — and are exposed to the heavy volume of advertising spilling over into the rest of Canada —some of these figures may rise,” according to Ipsos.

Most Canadian provinces have set up online gambling venues that are regulated and licensed to provide online gambling in Canada. But other online, unregulated gambling platforms in Canada are also relatively easy to access.

The availability of gambling opportunities in Canada has increased over time and may continue to rise. Due to new gambling technologies such as online poker and sports betting, the need for more regular and detailed monitoring becomes even more critical.

The study showed that populations more vulnerable to gambling problems included males, people from lower-income households, Indigenous people, individuals with fair or poor mental health, daily smokers, and those who participated in multiple forms of gambling activities.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may resume

Malaysia's government said Sunday it may renew the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 after a U.S. technology firm proposed a fresh search in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to have crashed a decade ago.

Stay Connected