Gambling is easily accessible, a popular escape and many Canadians believe they are just one win away from the jackpot. But when it becomes an addiction, the impact on women’s financial health can be staggering.
According to data collected by Statistics Canada in 2009, 64 per cent of women aged 45-64 in one-person households said they take part in at least one gambling activity — just slightly less than men of the same age, with government lotteries being the most popular option. In its 2016-2017 digest, the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling noted that more than 77 per cent of Canadians participate in gambling.
However, as Stacey Stenabaugh, director of counselling with the Credit Counselling Society explains, when it comes to the number of clients who disclose the fact that gambling is the primary reason for their debt issues, it is almost an even split between men and women.
“Sometimes people are coming to see us because they’ve hit rock bottom, they can’t pay for basic needs like rent and they have to start to rely, to borrow money from friends or family or children, they may need to cash out, they may have already started cashing out savings instruments and getting into high-interest credit like payday loans, they could have assets being foreclosed or repossessed.”
“Obviously, the absolute worst outcome would be filing for personal bankruptcy, which has long-lasting and severe consequences,” she says.
As the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health notes, other financial signs of problem gambling include regularly asking for salary advances, taking a second job without a commensurate change in finances, or alternating between being broke and flashing money.
Indeed, statistics reported by the Responsible Gambling Council show that as many as 90 per cent of individuals with gambling problems report doing so with their paycheques or family savings, while some 60 to 70 per cent are in debt to financial institutions.
For those who are ready to begin repairing their financial situation, there are a number of ways to do so — but the first step will be to tackle the underlying issue:
Address the root cause: As the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling notes, many problem gamblers believe money is not only the cause of, but also the solution to their problems — but as gambling is an emotional issue, individuals will have to deal with the addiction before looking to resolve their money problems.
“You can’t just fix the financial piece, you have to fix the root cause, so you have to get treatment for the addiction with counselling,” explains Stenabaugh.
This can involve working with groups like Gamblers Anonymous, individual counselling or telling family and friends so that you can have their support during recovery. Through these services, individuals will learn and create strategies to reduce or eliminate gambling, for example via self-excluding or abstinence, closing credit accounts or creating a buffer between themselves and their money by opening joint bank accounts, she says.
Seek financial help: Addressing financial issues created by problem gambling often involve taking responsibility for your actions, says Stenabaugh. Start by meeting with a licensed credit counselor at a non-profit credit counselling agency to get organized.
“If they can write down, for example, who they owe money to and how much, a credit counselor will work with them to create a budget and create an action plan to achieve their financial goals.”
“So, if it’s paying back all of the debt — which is something Gamblers Anonymous encourages if it’s viable, if it’s affordable — then the credit counselor will go over all of the options that are available,” says Stenabaugh.
Be honest with creditors: While it may be tempting to stick one’s head in the sand if you can’t afford to pay a debt, Stenabaugh says this is the “worst thing” you can do in this situation, as creditors will automatically assume you’re trying to intentionally avoid making a payment.
“It’s actually far better to communicate and let them know what the situation is, not overpromise or overcommit to a payment arrangement that you can’t actually afford, but let them know what is going on so that they don’t make a stressful situation even worse, for example, by taking legal action against you, to try and garnish wages or other things because you’re not communicating.”