“When casinos closed due to COVID-19 (along with most of our other sources of fun), we were left to our own devices — quite literally,” says Shannon Simms, a clinical counsellor in Langley. “We engaged with technology in new and different ways, and there was a significant increase in online gambling, sports betting, fantasy leagues and day trading.”
Some people shifted from casinos to online gambling and others discovered it as a new activity. Gambling can be fun and entertaining, but it can also become a problem — one Simms is working to help by providing information, support and counselling through her contract with the provincial government’s Gambling Support BC Program.
“Online gambling is convenient, comfortable and easily accessible — it’s available 24 hours a day, you don’t have to leave your home or even get dressed to play. It’s a behaviour that’s easy to hide. It’s easy to lose track of time and money when spending online — we feel more detached from our money,” Simms says. “Gambling problems aren’t often talked about, which can make people feel like they’re alone.”
What recreational gambling looks like
“People have wagered on the outcome of contests for centuries. Most of the time it’s fun and harmless,” Simms says.
- Expecting to lose: It’s healthy to think of gambling as a form of entertainment — you hope to win, but you expect to pay to play. Recreational gamblers will accept small losses without chasing them, believe the odds of winning are against them and amplify the role of chance.
- Time & money limits: You choose when and how much. Gambling is part of a balanced life, just one of many things you do for fun.
- Gambling isn’t a coping strategy: You don’t use gambling to modify your mood, or cope with anxiety or depression.
Signs gambling is becoming a problem
“Problematic gambling exists on a continuum — the behaviour moves from ‘liking’ to ‘wanting’ or ‘needing’ and it can get more problematic over time,” Simms says. “Sometimes with behavioural addictions people wonder why they don’t have more self control, but for some people, the brain actually changes over time in response to gambling. There’s a process outside of your control — it’s not about will power or intelligence.”
- Preoccupation: How much time and energy do you spend thinking about gambling, planning your next venture or thinking of ways to access money? Do you spend a lot of time reliving past gambling experiences?
- Chasing wins and losses: Trying to win back your losses or replicate previous wins. Over-estimating the role of skill and under-estimating the role of chance.
- Increased tolerance: It takes wagering more money to feel the same level of excitement.
- Irritability: Attempts to slow down or stop have been unsuccessful, or you feel agitated when cutting back.
- Gambling is your primary relationship: Gambling is a problem if it jeopardizes your relationships, career or education opportunities.
For residents in other regions of BC, the multilingual Gambling Support Line is a 24/7 connection to free resources for anyone affected by a problem with gambling — including affected loved-ones. Connect with a counsellor in your area for one-on-one or group counselling in person, online or by phone. Call 1-888-795-6111 to get started, or fill out this online form.