Outdated Study Suggests Problem Gambling Is Under Control In Canada

Statistics Canada suggested only 300,000 Canadians were at risk for problem gambling in 2018
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A recently released Statistics Canada study found that, in 2018, roughly 300,000 Canadians, or 1.6% of respondents, were at moderate to severe risk of a gambling problem. The vast majority of Canadians (95%) who reported gambling within a yearlong time frame were found to be non-problem gamblers, while another 3.4% were found to be low risk.

The study, which examined gambling habits among people aged 15 or older, used data from the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), and then applied those findings to the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, which assesses problem gambling behavior and the consequences of that behavior.

Data was collected from July through December 2018 by computer-assisted telephone and in-person interviews, but the results of the study weren’t published until Aug. 9 of this year, and Statistics Canada didn’t collect information from respondents about the amount spent on gambling activities. When questioned about the outdated study release, a spokesperson for Statistics Canada said it is not uncommon for the organization to publish articles using data collected several years ago, while also noting some of the data was released in a separate article back in 2021.

“There weren’t any surprises in the study in terms of who’s at risk, frequency, and what gambling activities are most frequent,” Responsible Gambling Council CEO Shelley White told US Bets. “This is based on a 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey. That’s four years ago. A lot has happened in the gambling landscape in Canada in the past four years. So I think that the authors of this particular study indicated that, given the introduction of new gambling technology, it’s really amplified the importance of more regular and detailed monitoring.

“It will be interesting to see what the 2022 data is. It would be terrific if they could find a way to accelerate the production of the report so it’s not four years later, so that we’re getting more current information.”

Headquartered in Toronto, the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention, and White couldn’t be more accurate in stating that the Canadian gambling landscape has changed dramatically since 2018. In a country with a population of roughly 39 million, more Canadians are gambling online than ever before, thanks to advances in technology and a worldwide pandemic that forced many land-based gambling facilities to close or impose drastic capacity restrictions due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.

Furthermore, Bill C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was passed in Parliament last August, and the province of Ontario became the first to launch a regulated iGaming and online sports betting market in the country in April.

Other notable findings

According to the 2018 study, nearly two-thirds (64.5%) of Canadians aged 15 or older reported gambling at least once in the past year. People aged 45 to 64 were the most likely to have gambled in the past year (72.3%), while those aged 15 to 24 were the least likely (43.9%).

Providences where the gambling rate exceeded the national average included Newfoundland and Labrador (74.6%), New Brunswick (72.1%), Saskatchewan (70.9%), and Quebec (69.1%). Surprisingly, Ontario (62.2%) and British Columbia (59%) residents were below the national average in this category.

Lottery or raffle tickets were the preferred gambling activity of Canadians, as just over half (51.8%) had purchased a ticket in the past year. Additionally, 13.6% purchased tickets one to three times per month, and 13.8% reported playing one to three times per week.

Only 7.5% said they had placed bets at casino tables and 7.9% had wagered on sports.

Survey doesn’t account for new sports betting laws

The decriminalization of single-event sports wagering, combined with the launch of Ontario’s new online market, has opened up a whole new gambling realm across Canada in the time since the Statistics Canada study was conducted.

“I think that given the changes that have been made, you know, in 2021 and 2022, the 2020 to 2022 Canadian consumer health surveys would be extremely important,” White, who also is a Canadian Gaming Association board member, said. “Understanding the impact of the implementation of Bill C-218, as well as the changes in Ontario and British Columbia and other jurisdictions, will be important.”

The RGC will be conducting research on marketing and advertising in conjunction with Flutter Entertainment, which is FanDuel‘s parent company. Ontario regulators have adopted a strict policy on the advertising of bonuses and inducements to the general public in an attempt to protect consumers that are vulnerable to problem gambling.

“There are a lot of questions about impact on responsible gambling sustainability of the industry in this whole area of marketing and advertising,” said White. “And what we found is that there’s not a good body of evidence with respect to marketing and advertising best practices. This is really important for the RGC to understand, you know, what the evidence is saying and use that evidence internally to develop our own standards, but also to provide that information to regulators and operators so that they can incorporate it into their operational plans and strategies.”

There are now over 35 online gaming sites live in Ontario, and according to regulators, that number could double by the end of the year. The RGC’s RG Check Accreditation Program has been embedded into the requirements for all operators entering Ontario’s online marketplace by regulators.

There’s no data yet on how many Ontarians are participating in the province’s open online gaming market, and regulators haven’t yet released the opening revenue numbers to the public. However, if Ontario’s market is deemed a success, many other provinces could jump on board and allow private operators into their respective jurisdictions.

Canada a leader in responsible gambling

In 2015, 1.39 million Australian adults, or 7.9% of the population, were estimated to have experienced one or more gambling-related problems. And 2 million American adults (1%) are estimated to meet the criteria for severe gambling problems in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3%) adults in the United States are considered to have mild gambling problems, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

So how does Canada stack up on the international stage when it comes to responsible gambling?

White pointed out two responsible gambling programs, GameSense and PlaySmart, that are industry leaders in Canada. Launched in 2009 by the British Columbia Lottery Corporation, GameSense is designed to help players make informed gambling decisions and improve player trust, awareness, and education using research-based guidelines and best practices. The program is licensed in 14 gambling organizations across North America and has earned international recognition from the World Lottery Association, the NCPG, and the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

GameSense is being used in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in addition to British Columbia. Its practices have also been adopted in Connecticut and Massachusetts and by MGM Resorts International.

GameSense advisors are accessible on gaming floors in casinos and by phone or through online chat. They focus on educating bettors on how games work and the importance of taking regular breaks. The approach is less clinical and more conversational, and is designed to make potential problem gamblers feel more comfortable about discussing their issues.

PlaySmart is Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s responsible gambling program. PlaySmart Centres, which are located onsite at slot, casino, and charitable bingo and gaming center sites across Ontario, are also available for patrons looking for in-person assistance from professionally trained staff.

“We operate [PlaySmart Centres] for them, and we use all of our knowledge and understanding of RG to operate those PlaySmart Centres in the casinos and bingo facilities throughout Ontario,” said White. “I know the kind of staff that we’ve recruited in terms of their education and experience, as well as the kind of training that they get. The PlaySmart Centres are completely accessible to any player to come in and get information so they can learn how the games work, what the odds are, and what the tools are. They can also come in and ask questions and get assistance if they’re feeling that they’re having some challenges with their play.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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