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Compulsive gambling

If you are a Mount Royal student and are experiencing difficulties with gambling, please feel free to contact Student Counselling Services at:  403.440.6362

Fact Sheet

June, 2003

For many individuals, gambling is a social or recreational activity, something that is fun and entertaining. For other individuals however, gambling can become problematic, uncontrollable, and no longer within their realm of choice. Compulsive gambling is not a bad habit but rather a life-threatening disorder. It destroys families, friendships and careers. Bills go unpaid and basic needs like money for food and rent are neglected (Svendsen & Griffin, as cited in MCCGB, 1990*).

Volberg (as cited in MCCGB, 1990) indicates that prevalence rates for compulsive gambling range from 1% to 3%. Approximately 10% to 15% of young people surveyed in the United States and Canada report having experienced one or more problems related to gambling (APA, 2001). Research done in Alberta indicates that 67% of teens gamble, 15% of whom are at risk for problems, and 8% of whom are problem gamblers (AADAC, 2002). Winters (as cited in MCCGB, 1990) suggests that college students may be at particular risk for developing gambling problems because of the tendency to "experiment" with a wide range of at-risk behaviors. Winters also suggests a possible relationship between gambling behavior and credit card debt, both activities that students often find newfound access to in their college years.

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Wide variety of activities

Gambling covers a wide range of activities, including bingo, casino, craps, keno, video games, lottery tickets, slot machines, and "internet gambling", the latter of which is often viewed as a "harmless pastime" or "just another cool game on the net, but one where you might lose a few dollars" (APA, 2001). The isolation and timelessness of the internet facilitates uninterrupted and undetected gambling for long periods of time and this may increase one's risk for developing gambling problems (APA, 2001).

Compulsive gambling is often referred to as the "hidden disorder" since there is "no smell on the breath nor stumbling of steps or speech" (MCCGB, 1990). Gambling activities may be used to mask or cope with feelings of loneliness, anger, stress, depression, helplessness, anxiety, etc.


Compulsive gambling can be broken down into three phases (Custer, as cited in MCCGB, 1990):

  1. The Winning Phase
    (or the Search for Action)
    Compulsive gamblers often have one big win early on ("big" is relative to one's finances). Gamblers think the win is due to their intelligence or luck and continue to gamble, searching for that kind of feeling again.
  2. The Losing Phase
    (or the Chase)
    As losses increase and self esteem is jeopardized, the student borrows money to get even, hides these losses and borrows more. Lies, family disputes and class absenteeism are common danger signals. Selling of possessions such as CD players, clothes, and jewellery occurs to cover increasing bets. The use of student loans may also be used to cover gambling debts.
  3. The Desperate Phase
    (or Hitting Rock Bottom)
    Desperation occurs as the collegiate gambler becomes obsessed with getting even to cover money stolen from parents, roommates or employers. The gambler panics at the thought that the gambling action will cease if the credit or bailouts stop. The gambler may even attempt suicide as a way out.

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College Problem Gambling Danger Signals

  1. Do you find gambling to be the most exciting activity you do?
  2. Do you often spend your free time involved in gambling activities or daydreaming about gambling?
  3. Do you try to prevent your family and friends from knowing how much and how often you gamble?
  4. Do you miss classes or other important events due to gambling activities? If so, how often?
  5. Do you find that your involvement in gambling makes it hard for you to concentrate on schoolwork?
  6. Do you ever lie about your gambling?
  7. Have you ever gotten into arguments with others because of gambling? Do you get upset or irritable if you are unable to gamble?
  8. Do you ever borrow money to gamble, take out secret loans, cash in or borrow on life insurance policies, or maximize credit cards?
  9. Do you ever gamble with money that is supposed to be used for another purpose (e.g., tuition, books, rent)? Are you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
  10. Have you stolen money or property from family members, friends or employers or shoplifted in order to gamble or pay gambling debts? Have you considered or committed an illegal act to finance your gambling?
  11. Do you most want to gamble when you are under stress?
  12. When you win, do you want to return to gamble as soon as possible?
  13. Do you gamble until your last dollar is gone? Do you often feel depressed or guilty because you lost money gambling? Do you return to gambling after losing money in order to win it back, taking greater risks in order to make up for a loss or series of losses (i.e., "chasing")?
  14. When you are gambling do you tend to lose track of time or forget about everything else? Do you often continue to play longer than you had intended?
  15. Do you feel remorse after gambling?
  16. Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of gambling?
  17. Do you find yourself faithfully promising to loved ones/friends that you will stop gambling? Do you find yourself pleading for another "chance", yet gamble again and again? Have you made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling?

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Related books & websites

Gamblers Anonymous
Calgary Hotline — 403.237.0654

Gam-Anon
For family/friends of compulsive gamblers who have been affected by gambling problems.

Responsible Gambling Council

Don't Leave It To Chance:
A Guide for Families of Problem Gamblers
(Federman, Drebing, & Krebs, 2000)

Sex, Drugs, Gambling & Chocolate:
A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions
(Horvath, 1998)

Alberta Problem Gambling Hotline
1.800.665.9676

Fact Sheet References

(Excerpts taken from *Minnesota Council on Compulsive Gambling; Gambler's Anonymous)

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