Gambling Money a Risky Business, Says Ottawa Health Agency

More should be spent to address ‘gambling-related harm’: Report
By Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
August 22, 2013 Updated: August 22, 2013

OTTAWA—A recent report from a health agency in Ottawa says making gambling more accessible increases the likelihood of people seeking treatment for problem gambling. 

Some provincial governments are increasing the scope of gambling facilities that provide significant revenue—but at a public health cost, notes the report from Ottawa Public Health.

The most recent information from Statistics Canada in 2011 found a rapid rise in gambling revenues over the preceding decade, from $2.73 billion in 1992 to $13.7 billion in 2007, a figure that held steady until 2010, the last year studied.

Provincial governments provide detailed information about their gambling revenues through an association of the provincial gambling authorities. That association publishes an annual report of revenues and expenditures from provincial gaming authorities. Comparing the annual reports paints a more detailed picture of how gambling has changed over the years.

After a rapid rise in gambling facilities, most provinces have slowed their take of gambling monies. Although most are still adding casinos, they seem to be countering that by allocating more funds to programs aimed at addressing problem gambling. 

In its report, Ottawa Public Health detailed the consequences of problem gambling, including over-spending, borrowing money or selling something to raise funds for gambling, not being in control of the desire to gamble, conflicts at home, or disruption to one’s job. 

It also said problem gambling can lead to thoughts of suicide both for gamblers and their children.

The report was compiled at the request of Ottawa’s city council, which last October voted in favour of opening a new casino in the city. OPH advised against increasing gambling facilities of any kind.

“Increasing the availability and accessibility of gambling in Ottawa, including new casinos, slot machines, and table games, will likely result in an increase in the prevalence of problems with gambling among Ottawa residents,” the report stated. 

“Gambling opportunities already exist in many forms in Ottawa, both online and in casinos. But electronic gaming machines, such as slot machines, and casino table games are more likely to be associated with gambling problems.”

Citing provincial data, the report indicated that approximately 42 percent of problem gamblers seeking treatment are spending non-salaried income, such as unemployment, pension, or disability income. 

Far-reaching Effects

If OPH is correct, a new casino in the city would result in additional gambling, and that could have far-reaching effects, it said.

“There is international evidence to support that the number of people presenting for problem gambling treatment and the number of bankruptcies both rise following the opening of a casino,” stated the report.

Current prevention and outreach programs in Ottawa aimed at addressing problem gambling are inadequate, the report added, as is current funding for education and treatment of gambling-related problems.

That finding comes despite a rise in monies that the provinces allocate to deal with problem gambling—an amount that rose from an average of 0.87 percent to 1.45 percent during 2003 through 2012 according to “Canadian Gambling Digest” reports prepared by Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling (CPRG). 
This group of NGOs, gaming providers, and gaming regulators collaborate to identify and promote effective ways to reduce the risk of problem gambling.

CPRG reports that in 2011-2012, amounts distributed across the country for problem gambling and responsible gaming were at least $84,190,000 and $29,043,000 respectively.

Problem gambling monies are distributed by government health ministries and departments to problem gambling initiatives. Responsible gaming monies are used in government responsible gaming initiatives such as on-site brochures and self-exclusion programs, among others. 

OPH’s report noted that research and talks from other agencies revealed that current efforts to prevent and treat problem gambling had “several significant gaps.” The report called for those to be addressed to prevent “current and future gambling-related harm.”

The health agency wants gambling treatment services in Ottawa to get a major bump in funding, from $741,000, which is unchanged since 2007, to $2 million.

Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan