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Gambling addictions deserve more light

By: Ken Allred

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 06:00 am

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Paula Simons’ excellent article Fences can’t fix a mental-health crisis in the January 21 issue of the Edmonton Journal addresses the issue of suicide among victims of mental health and Edmonton’s High Level Bridge as a vehicle for recent tragedies. I agree fully with Paula’s line “The problem of suicide is bigger than one haunted bridge,” but feel a need to address that bigger problem.

According to Simons’ research there were nine suicides related to the High Level Bridge between 2008 and 2012 – that’s about two per year. That’s certainly of concern but more disconcerting is the fact that there are in excess of 50 suicides per year as a result of gambling addictions.

Gambling addiction is often associated with mental health problems but it is a far different creature. Gambling addiction affects housewives, seniors, business men and women and virtually every segment of the population. It may be cited as an illness but it is not a mental illness. Gambling addiction is an addiction like alcoholism, drugs, tobacco, and even video games. In fact addiction to VLTs is very similar to an addiction to video games except that the consequences are not just time wasted but financial ruin, family break-down and unfortunately suicide. VLTs are programmed so they are fast and mindless, with lots of bells and whistles and flashy screens that totally numb your mind to the consequences of your actions. VLTs are often referred to as the cocaine of gambling because of their addictive nature and the severity of their addictive consequences.

There have been numerous situations in the past several years where some of our friends, neighbours and colleagues have gotten caught up in the spell of the slot machine, only to end up with lost jobs, overextended credit cards, bankruptcy and suicide. Debts of up to $1 million unfortunately are not uncommon – I know of at least two cases of personal friends who have ended up in the high end of that range; one the victim of a tragic suicide.

So what is being done to curb the problem? A few gambling awareness programs, Gamblers Anonymous and that’s about it.

These problems hardly ever make headlines because families are not willing to disclose the causes of these terrible tragedies. Government is quite happy to gloss over the problem because they themselves are addicted to the $2 billion per year they receive from gaming revenues; charitable organizations are seduced by the substantial grants available to them from volunteer stints in the casinos; and individuals hide their problem from family, friends and associates.

Yes, Simons is right, mental health is a crisis that we need to address but it is clear that societies and our government’s addiction to gambling is an equally serious crisis.

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.


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