British Columbians seem more interested in the fun of gambling than ever. A 2014 study found increases in participation in nine out of 12 types of activities, including playing the lottery, betting on sports, and internet gambling. Problem gambling, however, is on the decline. These days roughly 125,000 British Columbians are at moderate or high risk of gambling problems. That’s 3.3% of the population, down from 4.6% a decade ago. 

But how do we know which behaviours spell “fun” and which ones mean “proceed with caution”? According to researchers, there are particular gambling-related experiences that suggest we’re slipping over a boundary. These include

  • betting beyond our budget,
  • chasing losses (e.g., going back another day to win back money),
  • needing to spend more to get the same feeling of fun, and
  • borrowing money or selling things to get gambling money.

Studies also show other patterns among people at risk of gambling problems. For example, moderate-risk gamblers are much more likely to hang out at casinos, participate in private games, or play bingo than non-problem gamblers. They’re also two to four times as likely to buy short term speculative stock or commodity shares. And they’re three or four times more likely to engage in internet gambling. 

Other tell-tale comparisons? Non-problem gamblers tend to gamble the same amount every year, whereas problem gamblers go up or down depending on how things are going in their lives. Problem gamblers are much more likely to gamble large amounts in a singe day. They may feel guilty or anxious about gambling, and they may sense (or have been told by loved ones) that they have a problem.

Judging from the decline in problem gambling in BC, it seems like more of us are aware of the boundary between pleasure and unhealthy risk, and are better able to pull back when the line begins to blur. This is both encouraging and empowering because it confirms that we have the capacity to critically assess our behaviours and make choices about those behaviours. 

Like any pleasurable behaviour—from eating and sleeping to having sex and using psychoactive substances—it’s easy to lose our way for a while. But knowing when and how to limit our behaviours can result in an even greater prize—the contented feeling of control over ourselves and our lives. 

The sense of freedom that comes with healthy self-management is priceless and needs no boundaries.

For more detail, see 2014 British Columbia Problem Gambling Prevalence Study

To think about – or discuss with a friend

  • What do you use to mark the boundaries for your gambling behaviour?
  • Have you ever felt the need to pull back on your gambling? How difficult was it to make new choices?