It’s fun to join the office lottery pool once in a while or getting some scratch tickets for your birthday. To dream of the fancy new house you’ll buy, all the places you’d travel to… There’s a difference, however, between buying the occasional lottery ticket and cashing your paycheck at the casino. 

Problem gambling leads to a variety of serious personal and professional problems including depression, bankruptcy, domestic abuse, fraud, theft, and homelessness. These effects are also detrimental to the addicts' loved ones. This is why the Canada Safety Council treats problem gambling as a community safety matter and crime prevention issue.

Gambling is one of the most crafty or subtle vices we can face because it gives the illusion of easy money. That of course, can lead to financial destitution. Whether it’s blackjack or bingo, gambling is a strong industry because the house always wins. 

A gambling addiction can also be difficult to recognize, not just to the addict, but family and friends take longer to catch on as well. Often, the signs don’t become obvious until financial ruin sets in. We’re going to take a look at these signs and how to recognize them in yourself. We’ll also discuss how to get help and steps you can take to change your behaviour. First, a little more information about gambling in Ontario and why it can become a problem in the first place.


Industry Canada includes the following activities as gambling:

  • Casino table games
  • Electronic gaming machines
  • Lotteries
  • Horse racing
  • Charitable raffles
  • Bingo
  • Internet gaming sites

Lottery tickets are - by far - the most popular gambling activity in Canada. About 65% of adults participate in lotteries, while 36% purchase scratch tickets. Only about 22% of adults visit casinos in Ontario. Of those who do visit casinos, 49% said they only play slot machines.

If the number of casino visits seems low to you, that’s because they are. The gambling industry is extremely profitable but numbers have declined in recent years. It’s important to note, that most statistics we are referring to about the gambling industry are from 2017-2019 as COVID has severely skewed the numbers for 2020.

Canada’s gambling industry generated $17.3 billion dollars in 2017, dropping to $15 billion in 2019. An astounding 43% of that came from Ontario - keep in mind, however, we are Canada’s biggest province.


There are no hard and fast rules for who a problem gambler could be, however, statistics are available, offering some interesting information:

  • Younger adults (18-25) are more likely to play video games, than visit the casino. Video games are believed to be a key factor in the decline the gambling industry has been facing.
  • Lottery tickets are purchased most often by 19-35-year-olds.
  • Bingo is popular in the 40+ demographic.
  • Slot machines are most commonly used by those 50-65 years.
  • Quebec is the gambling center of Canada, with over 10,000 gambling venues such as casino’s and bingo halls. However, only 66% of Quebecers are estimated to visit them, while 83% of Ontarians visit local venues.
  • 57% of women in Ontario gamble at in-person gambling venues, while 73% of men do the same.
  • For online gambling, the numbers are a little less even between the sexes, 81% of online gamblers are men.


Gambling is diverse, when you have many types of games, you’re likely to have many types of gamblers. This is one of the reasons why it can be so difficult to spot a problem gambler.

  1. Compulsive Gamblers are controlled entirely by gambling and money. They have experienced many unsuccessful attempts to stop and have seen problems in relationships, work, or home life increase.
  2. Personality Gamblers involve activities that are usually illegal, this could be betting on unlawful acts or even cheating at legal games. Their tactics could be elaborate such as fixing a race or subtle such as slipping a card up their sleeve.
  3. Conservative Gamblers are looking for the thrill of winning. They’re interested in playing a little bit of everything, simply because they’ve seen it on television and want to give it a try. Their budget is usually modest and they limit their time, which is why it’s rare that conservative gamblers become problematic.
  4. Relief and Escape Gamblers have similar habits to drug abusers; seeking out gambling as a way to cope with stress, depression, or anxiety. Unfortunately, just like with alcohol and drug addicts, the addiction doesn’t solve problems, it just creates more.
  5. Casual Social Gamblers are most common in gambling centers, stopping in occasionally and only spending a moderate amount of money before leaving. They are compared to a social drinker; the experience is less about winning and more about time with friends.
  6. Serious Social Gamblers are a hybrid between the Casual Social Gambler and those in it for Relief and Escape. Most of their free time is spent gambling, but relationships and finances haven’t been depleted yet.
  7. Professional Gamblers methodically make their living from gambling. They are rare but do exist. It takes enormous patience, intelligence, and self-control to be a professional gambler. Most Compulsive and Personality Gamblers hope to become a Professional Gambler.


Developing a problematic gambling habit isn’t due to genetics, it doesn’t happen by accident either. Problem gambling develops from a psychological principle called Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule (VRRS). This is where mood-stimulating rewards are variable and unpredictable. A VRRS has been recognized as a compulsion-inducing system. Because of this, we know there are warning signs you should be looking out for.

    Lying to hide your behaviour is a core symptom of any addiction, including gambling. When the compulsions become so strong, you’re willing to lie to loved ones to cover your gambling, deep down inside you know what you’re doing is wrong. The problem is, pathological gamblers can even lie to themselves. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological term to describe individuals embracing activities that are not consistent with their values. It creates psychological discomfort for the addict. Logically this should stop them from gambling, but logic doesn’t apply to addictions. This is why an addict starts lying to themselves.

We learned that Casual Social Gamblers and Conservative Gamblers put limits on the time and money spent gambling. When a gambler begins to bet more than they can afford to lose, it’s a good sign they have lost the ability to control their gambling. Money isn’t the only thing a problem gambler is willing to lose; jobs and relationships take a lower priority to placing the next bet.

    Similar to other addictions, compulsive gambling is a coping mechanism. But even if you’re gambling to escape from a bad or stressful situation, the act of gambling will still stir up other negative emotions. When you’re not gambling, the reward center of the brain has lost those “feel-good” neurotransmitters causing you to feel sluggish, irritable, and unhappy. It’s fair to say the emotions of a problematic gambler become unregulated and dysfunctional.
    Impulse control is lost in all pathological gamblers, resulting in the obsession with the act of gambling and the possibility of winning. In other words, even if you’re not gambling, you’re thinking about it. You’re thinking about past bets - whether you lost or won, and you’re thinking about things you’d like to do with your winnings… only you never get to do them, because even if you do win, the money is spent on more gambling. These obsessive thoughts eventually become invasive and unbearable.
    As mentioned earlier, it usually takes friends and family a while to catch onto a gambling problem; by the time they do, it’s because of the damage already done. Even though they are part of your innermost circle, it’s often hard for an addict to believe what he/she is hearing, because they’ve been lying to themself for so long. Your loved ones offer a unique perspective on your actions and behaviour; if they express concern, it’s time to pay serious attention to what they’re saying.

These five signs will help you determine if you have a gambling problem, but if you’re still undecided, the best way to know for sure, is simply to stop. What it all boils down to, is that a gambling addiction is best illustrated by your inability to stop. No matter how you justify your actions - no matter what lies you tell yourself to gamble again, if you end up placing another bet, then it is definitely time to seek help.

Quitting gambling is not an easy task, it often takes support from loved ones, a treatment program, and group support from other problem gamblers. When you’re ready to make a change, ConnexOntario can help. Through our toll-free number, we provide contact information to mental health and addiction services in your region. Our professionals listen, provide education to help start your recovery and strategize with you to help meet your goals.