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Ontario online gambling ads increase demand for problem-gambling treatment, says counsellor

Caesars Windsor launched 10 sports betting kiosks at the casino Nov. 3, 2022. Ontario opened a regulated sports betting program in April of this year, and with that came an onslaught of advertising. A Windsor, Ont. counsellor says many problem-gamblers were immediately worried. (Submitted by Caesars Windsor - image credit)
Caesars Windsor launched 10 sports betting kiosks at the casino Nov. 3, 2022. Ontario opened a regulated sports betting program in April of this year, and with that came an onslaught of advertising. A Windsor, Ont. counsellor says many problem-gamblers were immediately worried. (Submitted by Caesars Windsor - image credit)

Sports betting advertising has become ubiquitous, especially since it became legal and regulated in Ontario this spring.

It's leading to more demand for a problem gambling in-patient treatment program at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare in Windsor, Ont., the only one of its kind in the province.

Diana Gabriele is a Canadian-certified gambling counsellor there, and says she saw this coming.

"We, as counsellors, knew that with that accessibility, that ease of access, combined with technology, that people would be even more susceptible to the ravages of gambling," she said.

"We've been seeing an uptick of that ever since the single sports betting came online in April."

In 2021, the federal government made it legal to gamble on individual sporting events, giving provinces the ability to regulate it themselves.

Ontario became the first province to create a regulated sports betting program, which launched in April, and with it came the onslaught of ads.

Gabriele says even before Ontario's program launched, she saw an influx of worried clients.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

"We started getting people and they were really concerned and panicked about, you know, this greater ease and accessibility to this form of gambling when it was already quite a problem for them," she said.

Watching sporting events and betting alongside can be fun and exciting, said Gabriele, but it also affects our brains.

"There's like massive doses of dopamine that are released in one's brain, and that dopamine causes a euphoric state and great feelings of excitement and contentment and fun," she said. "One can easily lose sight of the money they're spending and how deep they're getting into the activity because there's so much feel-good chemicals happening."

LISTEN | Hear more from Gabriele on CBC's Windsor Morning: 

Caesars Windsor launches kiosks

There's been a big push to legalize this type of gambling, including by MP Brian Masse, in an effort to boost cross-border commuters to spend cash at Caesars Windsor — and save jobs.

The casino launched 10 sports betting kiosks Thursday.

"When the Ontario government had passed the sports betting law in April, we've started working on bringing these kiosks in and getting our staff trained, and it's a new amenity that we are able to bring to our property and for our guests," said Susanne Tomkins, manager for public relations and communications for the casino.

"It's exciting."

What to do if you need help

Gabriele says Caesars has been a partner in helping those affected by problem-gambling, but suggests individuals watch for signs they may have a problem, like if they are gambling alone, keeping secrets, hiding the activities or how much money was spent, losing control, and being unable to stop yourself.

"I think one of the very best strategies that anyone can put in place is to have some kind of accountability," said Gabriele. "So having a partner that is willing to put limits in place, set a budget, only give so much money, set a time limit so that you don't go over the budget or the limits that you put in place for yourself."

For those looking for immediate help, they can call the gambling line at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare at 519-254-2112.

The services are free and covered by OHIP, and are open to those dealing with problem gambling or that know someone who is.