One of Ontario’s leading problem gambling helplines is seeing a sharp rise in calls seeking help. And a large volume of the calls to Connex Ontario have been those seeking help for problems with online gambling.
On April 4, it will have be a year since the launch of legal online gambling in Ontario. Over 70 gambling sites are being run by 46 operators in the province.
Early numbers show total gaming revenue reached $886 million, with over $21.6 billion in total wagers in the first nine months.
However, with that, has come a rise in problem gambling, according to Anne Counter, the director of system navigation and information services for Connex Ontario. It is an organization that provides free and confidential health services information for people experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs, mental illness or gambling.
Counter told PlayCanada the increase was an expected result of Ontario’s competitive online gambling market.
“With the addition of the regulated online gambling sites and apps, it has certainly increased the availability of gambling to people, and with increased opportunity, there is likely an increased likelihood of some people finding themselves struggling with their gambling,” said Counter. “At Connex Ontario, we continue to support people who contact us looking for help, and make sure they are made aware of the treatment and support options available to them.”
Since September, one-third of calls are about problem online gambling
Counter said Connex Ontario has seen an increase in contacts over the last few years. This includes an increase of approximately 40% over the previous two fiscal years.
Since Sept. 1, 2022, Connex Ontario has received over 2,000 calls about problem gambling activities. Those calls include both in-person and online gambling concerns. Some people self-reported. However, in many cases, it was family members, friends or co-workers calling to ask for help.
Of all the categories, the highest number of calls are connected to concerns over online gambling. Connex Ontario has seen over 800 calls for online gambling problems during that six-month timeframe from Sept. 1, 2022, through March 29, 2023.
Problem gambling services dealing with more calls since online launch
It is not a coincidence that Ontario is seeing an uptick in problem gambling. For those that can recall one of the most iconic lines in movie history:
“If you build it, they will come.” – Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, from the film “Field of Dreams (1989)”
With so many options now available, those suffering from gambling addictions are dealing with more temptations than ever.
However, while most only see the dollar signs, several organizations in the province are looking to help those suffering from gambling addiction in this new climate.
In Ontario, it has been reported that problem gamblers account for 2% of the population but contribute up to 24% of gambling revenue.
What is Ontario doing to address problem gambling?
Exact figures are difficult to find. But in fiscal year 2021-22, the following funds were reported to have been directed by the province towards problem gambling initiatives in Ontario:
- Ontario Ministry of Health: $5 million
- Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.: $10 million+
So, assuming those are separate numbers, Ontario spent over $15 million on responsible gambling programs.
But, those figures in Ontario are for the period before online casinos and sportsbooks launched on April 4 2022. With that launch came a sharp uptick in the number of gambling options in the province.
The OLG was the province’s chief gaming operator through FY 2021-22. The OLG reported net profit to the province of $1.6 billion for that fiscal year. That means Ontario spent a little more than 0.009% of its OLG gambling profits on RG initiatives in 2021-22.
Responsible gambling advocates recommend spending a minimum of 1% of all gambling revenue on responsible gambling programs. Ontario falls just short of that.
Some new Ontario responsible gambling initiatives
Near the end of 2022, the OLG introduced its newest responsible gambling strategy. The plan reinforces a commitment to sustainable, safe practices. Two primary goals drive the initiative forward:
- Preventing harm by providing foundational player education and integrating RG programming, tools, and supports into the fabric of the playing experience.
- Mitigating potential harm and problem gambling through the process of identifying and reducing problem gambling risk. Also, supporting and referring players for help, professional services, and community-based treatment.
This latest mission works in tandem with the organization’s original RG program, PlaySmart, to deliver an evolutionary assistance program that works in conjunction with responsible gambling research, protection, and prevention.
iGaming Ontario is the gatekeeper between operators and players
iGaming Ontario centres its RG approach around operators, as a means to protect players. In this framework, the onus is on the operator to empower players to make informed choices about their gambling behaviours. According to the iGaming Ontario website, informed choice involves “using the knowledge, information, and tools you have to make safe and healthy decisions about gambling.”
Further, in the interest of protecting informed choice, there are four stipulations all operators must adhere to:
- Successfully achieve and maintain responsible gambling accreditation. The RGC’s RG Check program to ensure a high standard of responsible gambling programming.
- Run problem gambling prevention and responsible gambling campaigns. The goal is to achieve a balance between responsible gambling advertising and promotional marketing.
- Participate in a future coordinated and centralized self-exclusion program. This will allow players to take a break from all regulated Internet gaming websites in Ontario.
- Share annonymous player data for the purpose of advancing problem gambling and responsible gambling research.
Further, work is reportedly being done at iGO to launch a province-wide self-exclusion program.
Where to get help
With Connex Ontario, problem gamblers can expect confidential help available on multiple platforms 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. You can call toll-free (1-866-531-2600). You can also text (247247). There are also chat and email options available. Connex Ontario is not a counselling service. However, it does connect you to appropriate treatment options in your nearby community.
If you or anyone you know is dealing with a gambling problem and needs help, PlayCanada also has a list of responsible gambling in Ontario resources.
Help, support and education can also be found at:
Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare – Centre for Problem Gambling and Digital Dependency
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centres in its field. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.
Responsible Gambling Council
Phone: +1 (416) 499-9800