Noah Vineberg, a bus driver based in Ottawa, Canada, has lost over a million dollars due to his gambling addiction.
Vineberg can trace the roots of his addiction back to elementary school, where he greedily traded marbles and hockey cards in the schoolyard.
“It wasn’t until much later – between 16 and 18, 19 – that I knew I was playing more than anyone else. And I knew I definitely had a problem.
After 48 years struggling with this problem, Vineberg will soon celebrate four years without a game.
But many others are still struggling. The National Center for Responsible Gambling points to research that indicates that 1% of the US population suffers from a serious gambling problem. And young adults are particularly vulnerable, with around 6% to 9% of young people having gambling-related problems. .
And while not all of these issues are financial, they often come with a hefty price tag.
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Online sports betting has skyrocketed during the pandemic
Gambling has long been one of America’s favorite pastimes. And access to it has only gotten easier since 2018, when the Supreme Court overturned a ruling that limited sports betting in Nevada. Ads and apps have popped up everywhere since, even some featuring celebrities like Aaron Paul and Shaquille O’Neal.
But these ads can have a disturbing effect, Vineberg says. Because while they may show that people are winning, the “winners” aren’t who advertisers are really trying to target.
“The customer they’re looking for is the ‘me’ who’s going to go to four different check-cashing locations…and who’s just going to try and make enough over the weekend in my bets to cover my ass by Monday.”
And it’s only going to get harder for people like Vineberg. More than two dozen states have legalized sports betting in recent years. And according to a report from the American Gaming Association, sports betting and iGaming revenue grew by double-digit percentages in April from a year earlier.
“The incidence of online gambling and its severity has increased dramatically,” says Diana Gabriele, gambling counselor at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare (HDGH) in Windsor, Ontario. in Canada. Ontario is the first province in Canada to regulate sports betting.
Gabriele adds that the increased isolation during the COVID-19 shutdowns hasn’t helped.
“Because of this isolation, lifestyle change and job loss, people got bored, they became cash strapped, they were looking for ways to make easy money,” says -she.
“They were looking for entertainment.”
And the entertainment they found. Gabriele explains that the rise of technology and “gamification” – the integration of video games into gaming platforms and vice versa – also increases the likelihood that people will become addicted. It’s more rewarding when players can complete missions or tasks, earn loyalty points and bonuses, or achieve high scores in tournaments and leaderboards – and it keeps users engaged longer, increasing their chances of losing more.
Mike Bergeron, Certified Credit Counselor at Credit Canada, agrees.
“It’s so easy to get to,” says Bergeron. “Wherever you are – it’s on your phone, it’s at home on your computer, you can do it at work on your lunch break.”
In an interview with Newsweek earlier this year, Kevin Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said his organization had seen a 45% increase in phone calls about gambling and a 100 % of communications by SMS and chat during the first year after. the decision of the Supreme Court.
“We believe the expansion of online gambling, including sports betting, has increased the severity and rate of problem gambling,” Whyte said.
What are some of the warning signs of a gambling addiction?
Gabriele says the problem with gambling addictions is that the problem is often not fully understood.
“In the industry, they say gambling is the invisible addiction,” says Gabriele. There are no visible effects of a gambling addiction, compared to drugs or alcohol, but there are still some major red flags you can watch out for.
Spending more money than you originally planned or pulling in money from other sources to fund your habit is the number one indicator, she says. Another worrying sign is if your habit begins to impact other aspects of your life, such as jeopardizing your important relationships, career opportunities, or education.
These are the two signs Vineberg saw in his own life. At one point he would siphon off a percentage of his salary and keep it in a separate account to hide his gambling from his wife. He also opened up secret credit cards and lines of credit to fund his habit.
“I owed everybody money…I was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Vineberg explains.
Setting firm limits on the amount and frequency of your games can help you avoid slipping into risky behaviors. The Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction recommends that you bet no more than 1% of your pre-tax household income per month and that you limit yourself to playing no more than four days per month.
How you physically and emotionally react to these limits can also be telling. Gabriele says that if you become irritable when trying to cut down on your drinking or if you’re too preoccupied with gambling, it could be a sign that you have a problem.
“Even when they’re not playing, they’re thinking about it, they’re planning to play, they’re trying to figure out how they can get more money so they can go back to playing,” Gabriele says.
“Or they’re afraid they don’t have any money at all, because they’ve spent it all on the game,” she adds. “And of course they will play even more, because it causes a lot of feelings of distress.”
How to control your finances?
A drug addict may soon discover that his problem has become so big that he can no longer cover basic expenses, such as his mortgage or rent.
“We’ve seen people go from six-figure incomes and very lucrative, satisfying jobs to living on the streets because of gambling,” notes Gabriele. “The journey can happen almost from the start for some people, and for others it can take many, many years before it becomes a consequence.”
Bergeron says the first step to getting out of this cycle is recognizing the problem and making sure you have systems in place to prevent you from going back.
“Even though there are solutions that could help them through their debt or credit crisis, if we don’t adapt and do nothing about the behavior that caused it, they will just become a band-aid” , said Bergeron.
The second step is to review your finances. Depending on the severity of your debt, you may want to consider everything from debt consolidation, to refinancing your mortgage, to filing a consumer proposal or declaring bankruptcy.
“And then we start going over their income and expenses and trying to create a good plan of action to live within their means, either to maintain their debt or to get out of debt at some point in the near future” , explains Bergeron.
For some, in the early days of recovery, it might be easier to take some of the decision-making away from them and limit their access to money by appointing a financial trustee.
“Because one of the insidious factors in the game is the lack of respect one has for money – it’s converted into pretty little coins, you know, just numbers on a screen. It loses its importance for that person, it depersonalizes for them,” Gabriele explains. “And over time, they have to regain that respect and appreciation for money as a tool to keep their lives secure.”
The sooner you seek help, the better
Vineberg made several attempts to get help for 15 years before finally succeeding. After three relapses – the last triggered by the event of his father’s death – he confided in his wife during a therapy session, calling it his “first real responsibility decision”.
From there, he took advice on the game at the HGDH center in Windsor. During the first year and a half of his recovery, he had to consolidate much of his debt and hand over the financial reins to his wife.
“If there’s one thing that’s different about my recovery now compared to other attempts, it’s that I’m still actively participating, acknowledging, taking responsibility and owning my recovery,” Vineberg says.
For anyone else struggling with the same thing, he points out that the sooner you seek help, the better.
He admits that the first few days were difficult. Vineberg and his wife lived on quite a shoestring budget for some time and made sacrifices to get back on track. But because he sought help when he did, the couple were able to take a two-week holiday in Italy earlier this year.
And he hopes that by shining a light on his experience with addiction, it will help others who may be struggling in the shadows.
“My son is going to be 27 – my oldest – and I’m not telling him not to play,” says Vineberg. “I tell him… if you start to notice that you can’t live without it, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.