Real Talk: Problem gambling

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Death. Divorce. Job loss. Sometimes tough stuff happens. Unfortunately, these not-so-great milestones often come with a financial impact. So, what do you do if you have to get a divorce? Or if a loved one suddenly passes away? Or if you find yourself with more debt than is comfortable? In our series, Real Talk for the Tough Stuff, we’ll tackle some of these situations head-on with the honest financial advice you need to get through and get on with life.

Next up, Real Talk for the Tough Stuff: Problem Gambling Edition.

Most vices and addictions come with a financial cost. But gambling is one of the only vices where money is the actual substance, as well as the means to fuel the addiction. That’s why recovering from a serious gambling addiction—and any other addiction, for that matter—can be challenging, to say the least.

To dig a little deeper into the topic of problem gambling and the financial implications of it, we spoke with somebody who has lived it firsthand. Derek Montague is a recovering gambling addict who knows all too well some of the financial implications that can come from problem gambling. We also chatted with Shawn McKinley, Commercial Account Manager from OMISTA Credit Union to get some perspective on how to move forward and start to rebuild your finances as part of the recovery process.

Like anything, normal behaviour can turn into problematic behaviour quickly—and you often don’t realize the shift has happened until it’s too late.

“Gambling for me had always been an on-and-off hobby ever since I was a kid. I spent maybe $40 a week maximum on gambling,” remembers Derek.

“When I was 24 years old and in fourth year university, one of my best friends tragically passed away. I happened to be visiting Montreal for a conference and decided to check out the Montreal Casino—that’s when I started playing poker with a lot more money. And I just got addicted to the high of it and the distraction it created during this time of grief and anger,” says Derek.

“I eventually continued playing poker for higher stakes and then once I got bored with poker and the slowness of it I turned to video lottery terminals for more speed to the game. That’s when things really went downhill with my addiction.”

For Derek, this growing need to bet more to get a bigger high took a toll on his finances. He misused his credit cards, which in turn, led to taking on more debt through taking out consolidation loans from his financial institution.

“In terms of my finances over the years, [I’ve incurred] a lot of unnecessary credit card debt that I would later turn into loan consolidation. There was a time when I was debt free and then I relapsed and put on several grand of credit card debt and I’m just paying that off now,” says Derek.

Unfortunately, Derek’s situation is not uncommon or unique and it can happen to anyone, at any stage in life. So, what do you do if you find yourself in financial hot water?

The first thing is to sit down and take an honest look at your financial reality. It might not be pretty, but even the toughest financial situation has a path forward. Seeking help from an expert can be beneficial to help you develop a plan for how to get your finances back on track.

For Derek, that meant getting rid of his credit cards until he was able to trust himself and work through his addiction challenges.

“For a few years, I didn’t have a credit card because I didn’t trust myself with it. And then when the bank cleared me to get a credit card with a small limit, eventually, as I began to trust myself again, I built up my credit then kept getting approved for higher and higher limits. I use a credit card now with no problem and I’ve been able to consistently pay off the balance—not just the interest,” says Derek.

Getting a handle on spending, your financial reality, and what does and does not work for your situation can be challenging. But it’s important to just get started—especially if your credit score has been negatively impacted.

“It’s a matter of making the small changes that will make incremental improvements to your credit,” advises Shawn. “Make sure you pay your bills on time. Even if it is minimum payments on your credit card, make sure you’re making those payments every month. Pay extra attention to your utilities, cellphone, cable, internet… that kind of thing. Those types of bills really impact your credit if you’re late. I guess that’s the biggest thing—just try to figure out where you’re at and start trying to rebuild that credit score.”

While it can seem daunting, the most important thing is to ask for help, and know that there are resources and support systems available.

“You can’t do this on your own. You’re going to need good friends or family who aren’t going to judge you, but instead encourage you and be supportive,” says Derek.

If you or a loved one is dealing with a gambling addiction, there are resources available to help:

Nova Scotia

Gambling Support Network: The Nova Scotia Gambling Support Network provides 24/7 online and phone support for Nova Scotians and their families affected by gambling-related harms.

  • 1-888-347-8888

Addiction Services offices: Addiction Services is operated by the Nova Scotia Health Authority in communities across Nova Scotia and offers in-person counselling for Nova Scotians with gambling concerns.

Gamblers Anonymous: Holds 12-step meeting support groups for people with compulsive gambling issues.

  • 902-252-3132 (voicemail only)
New Brunswick

Gambling Information Line: Provides problem gamblers and their families with information related to problem gambling and referrals for help 24/7.

  • 1-800-461-1234
Prince Edward Island

PEI Gambling Support: The PEI Gambling Support line offers 24/7 free and confidential information about treatment, immediate support, advice, and referrals for yourself or a loved one, and ongoing support through follow up calls (if you consent to be contacted).

  • 1-855-255-4255
Newfoundland and Labrador

Gambling Help Line: The Gambling Help Line is a 24/7, free, confidential service that offers information and support for gambling concerns.

  • 1-888-899-HELP (4357)
  • 1-800-363-5864

For financial advice, contact your nearest credit union.