The human toll (6/8)
Three per cent
Mike Buckley, a gambling therapist with Capital District Health Authority and a gambling researcher at Dalhousie University, says he and his colleagues only see around three per cent of people they could help because of the stigma attached to admitting a problem.
“Most of the time, they are involved with VLTs,” says Buckley, who notes that treating an addiction to gambling can take years.
The procedure for someone seeking help for a gambling problem requires an assessment by a counsellor, to see if there’s actually a problem using the Canadian Problem Gambling Index. If the gambler scores as a problem gambler, counseling begins. The CPGI scores players from non-problem to severe problem gambler.
“They’ll say they started playing for the money because they had an experience of winning early,” says Buckley.
“So they have experiences of winning on large amounts but staying until that’s all gone instead of cashing it out. So the money simply becomes the vehicle for getting more time on the machines.”
Winning the first night
“The worst thing that could happen to you is if you won your first night playing,” remembers Wayne Power, a recovered problem gambler from New Waterford, Cape Breton.
“The second worst thing that could happen to you is, if you’re losing … you start thinking to yourself, ‘Well, this machine is ready to pay. Pay big.’”
Power started gambling with his friends, back in the mid-1980s, during the fishing season. He played in a band with his friends, so it wasn’t unusual to find Power in a bar. When his friend started to play a video machine, he wandered over to watch. Then he went to the bar and exchanged some quarters.
Power and his friend gambled for a few hours while they drank, leaving because they had to be up for 4 a.m. to go fishing.
It was purely social in the beginning.
“And then it just progressed, after that. He’d call and say, ‘What are you doing? Wanna go up to the club and play the machines for a bit?’” remembers Power.
Power and his friends also took trips to Las Vegas, to watch Mike Tyson fight or hear Frank Sinatra sing, but they’d gamble while they were there. It took Power about five years to get hooked. Then one day, he quit.
“I knew I had a couple thousand dollars on me the day before when I went out, and I woke up the next morning and had none,” remembers Power.
He acknowledged the problem, and stopped cold turkey. But after a couple of years, he felt the pull again.
“I used to tell myself, ‘I gotta try this,’ because I was in clubs all the time. ‘I’ll just take ten dollars, just to test myself,’ and it worked for a bit.”
VLTs were legal the second time he started gambling.