By Paul Burns, VP, Public Affairs, Canadian Gaming Association

In a recent edition of the Toronto Sun, reporter Sharon Lem covers some familiar territory — but fails to cover the facts related to gambling and problem gambling in Canada. In fact, the article gets it plain wrong on a number of fronts.

Research is mentioned, but never cited. Statistics are provided on suicide are wrong. Overall, key information and context are sorely lacking.

The facts are that the vast majority (over 98 per cent) of people pursue this form of entertainment without problems, and that it’s not marketing, VIP programs, gaming devices or casino environments that are responsible for creating problem gambling.

So, why then do some people gamble responsibly while others develop problems? Well, it’s a tough question. But research conducted by Harvard Medical School has some answers. Howard Schaffer, the Director of the Division of Addictions, states “that there is a myth regarding addictive behaviours around gambling, that the game causes the disorder. In fact, the game doesn’t cause the disorder, because if it did, everyone who played the game would end up with the problem. Gambling problems derive from every form of gaming. It’s the relationship of a person with vulnerabilities to the games that they play, what this means to them and how it fits in their life, that essentially determines whether or not they will have a problem.”

On the issue of suicide, most jurisdictions in Canada, including Ontario, do not formally track causes of suicide. Some instances of suicide have been associated with gambling, but it is difficult to discover whether gambling, led to the suicide or if other financial, legal, social or physical problems were the primary cause. A cause and effect relationship has yet to be statistically established.

It is also important that the issue of problem gambling be placed in a proper context. Research conducted by the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling shows, for instance, that only one per cent of Canadians can be classified as problem gamblers. This is consistent with a comprehensive study completed by Drs. Jamie Wiebe and Rachel Volberg which found that regardless of time, sample size or methodology of measurement, worldwide problem gambling prevalence rates consistently hover around one per cent.

None of this is to minimize the importance of issues surrounding problem gaming. We too want to see the issues addressed, and are working with operators, manufacturers, lotteries, researchers, and governments to deal with (for instance) issues like youth gambling, greater access to treatment, and the proliferation of online gaming sites that that are not subject to Canadian regulatory oversight, have no limits, and offer little to no help to problem gamblers.

That’s also why the Canadian industry spends more than any other nation in the world on responsible gambling programs. At more than $100-million per year, initiatives include mandatory training for employees, information centres at casinos, public awareness campaigns, and treatment and counseling programs to name just a few examples.

Canada’s gaming industry will continue to support and promote programs for problem gamblers. We will also sustain our efforts to market the industry responsibly to Canadians who have fun gambling and who see and treat it as a great form of entertainment they can safely enjoy.

Paul Burns is VP, Public Affairs with the Canadian Gaming Association, which represents casino operators, equipment suppliers and other elements of Canada’s gaming industry.

Canadian Gaming Association 
44 Victoria St., Suite 300 
Toronto, ON M5C 1Y2 
phone: 416.304.6870 
mobile: 416.579.392