Canadian Pathological and Problem Gambling

Why is gambling seen by some to be a social problem? Part of the answer appears to lie in the extent to which gambling is funded by the poor and problem gamblers. Some forms of gambling are known to create situations of regressive taxation because players of all income levels that gamble similar amounts will lose at equal rates. Consequently, lower income gamblers pay proportionately more Òvoluntary taxÓ dollars than higher income gamblers. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement “gambling is an unfair tax on the poor.” Contrary to the regressive theory, a plurality (46%) of respondents disagree.

Significant regional variations are once again present. In particular, discrepancies are noticeable between Atlantic respondents and those from Ontario. On this question, 38% of Atlantic respondents strongly agree that gambling is an unfair tax while only 18% of Ontario respondents strongly agree. This perception might reflect the nature of cross-border play at the Ontario casinos by United States residents. The tourist-based casinos are less likely to draw lower income players from the US.

Respondents have a stronger appreciation for the plight of the problem gambler. Problem gamblers are known to significantly over-contribute gambling losses, as some studies suggest that problem gamblers contribute seven or eight dollars in losses for every dollar lost by a non-problem gambler. The survey asked whether respondents felt that Òthose with gambling problems are those who financially can least afford to lose money.Ó As shown in Figure 28, 72% of respondents agree (45% strongly agreeing) that problem gamblers are becoming more impoverished as a result of their habit.

Nearly one-third of Canadians (32%) indicate that they know someone Òwho is a problem gambler, that is they spend more than they can afford on gambling.Ó Although based on respondentsÕ perceptions and not a true measure of the prevalence of problem gambling, these data do provide a sense to which Canadians are aware of problem gambling as an emerging social issue. Given the lack of visible symptoms with problem gambling in comparison with other forms of addiction, these survey results suggest a high level of awareness of the potential for problem gambling among the population. (Prevalency work estimates that actual problem gambling rates are 3-5% for the Canadian population.)

Figure 29 shows the regional variation for this question. Respondents from the Atlantic region are significantly more likely (56%) to report knowing a problem gambler than respondents from any other region. These data are somewhat surprising as prevalence estimates suggest that problem gambling rates in the Atlantic region are not significantly different than for the rest of the country. One possible explanation is that the lower-than-average incomes in the Atlantic region may have caused more respondents to indicate they knew of a person Òspending more than they can afford.Ó The pattern of less favourable attitudes toward gambling in the Atlantic region noted throughout the report may be influenced by these high levels of reported problem gambler knowledge.

It is also interesting to note that 11 respondents (0.5%) self-identified to our researchers that they themselves are problem gamblers. This group is too small for statistical analysis.

FIGURE 28: DO YOU AGREE THAT: “those with gambling problems are those who financially can least afford to lose money”
Strongly Agree – 45%
Somewhat Agree – 27%
Neither – 8%
Somewhat Disagree – 10%
Strongly Disagree – 8%
BC – 31%
Prairie – 38%
Ontario – 25%
Quebec – 32%
Atlantic – 56%