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How to Tell When Gambling has Gone Too Far

By Julie Jaggernath
Gambling can go too far - what to do if it's no longer fun.Gambling has never been more popular than in today's culture. Poker games are broadcast on sports networks. There’s a bingo hall in every small town. Raffle tickets are popular fundraisers. And milestone jackpots are reported by mainstream news outlets, e.g. Lotto Max or Chase the Ace.
On occasion it can be fun to head to the casino with friends, bet on the outcome of a sporting event, join a hockey or football pool, play Keno or buy lotto tickets when the jackpot has reached a certain level. But what happens when a friend or family member seems obsessed with winning; they might not even be interested in much else, or they spend all of their free time at the casino?
Many people consider gambling to be just another hobby, like golf or photography. No one blinks an eye when you buy the odd lottery ticket, spend a weekend in Vegas for the “attractions”, or wager on the outcome of a hockey tournament.
However, how can you tell when gambling stops being "just for fun”?

Warning Signs That Gambling Isn’t Just for Fun & Has Become a Problem

Whether you’re questioning your own motivations or those of a friend or family member, gambling stops being fun and becomes a big problem when:
  • It turns from a casual activity to an obsession, consuming every thought, e.g. what getting a farber hand in poker would feel like
  • It becomes only about winning and less about the entire experience (e.g. the food, the friends and the game)
  • You lose contact with your family and friends
  • You experience financial hardship (e.g. getting into debt, not being able to repay loans, hiding losses from your spouse or family)
  • You skip time with family or friends in favour of gambling
  • You're distracted at work because you're thinking about the next game
  • You're "chasing the next win" so that you can pay your debts 

How to Keep Gambling Fun & Enjoyable

Keeping gambling fun and enjoyable means shifting the activity, and how you think about it, from gambling to gaming. Some ways to keep playing games with friends or family fun include:
  • Expect to lose. Casinos are an extremely profitable business and that's because the house wins more often than you do! Those who game bank on losing more often than winning.
  • Set limits on time and money before placing any bets. Decide how long you'll be there and how much you can afford to lose. It’s like going to an amusement park – you pay to play and once the money is spent, it’s time to go home.
  • Keep engaged in other social and recreational activities—gaming is just one of many enjoyable pastimes. 

​​Play with a Plan - Budget Your Money for Gaming and Entertainment

What to Do When Gambling Stops Being Fun & Financial Problems are Stressful

Whether you're young, old or anywhere in between, gambling addictions are serious. When gambling stops being fun, someone has usually already done a lot of damage to their finances, personal relationships, employment situation and/or family circumstances. While it might seem best to deal with the stressful financial fallout first, until the gambling addiction has been addressed, it’s difficult to resolve the associated financial problems. Some casinos provide information about support and resources, so start by getting help from a quality community resource or counselling program. If you or your spouse/partner have extended health benefits through work, see if psychological counselling is a covered benefit or if you have access to a confidential employee helpline. Gambling should be like spending money on a nice meal - you hope it tastes good, but ultimately, you did get to eat.
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