Free program provides education and support on responsible gambling

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Human beings’ natural instinct for play and the dream of a better future can make gambling an attractive prospect.

Knowing how to take a fun risk without it becoming addictive and potentially ruinous is essential to keeping gambling a positive activity, but many people don’t have the tools required. That’s where the British Columbia Responsible and Problem Gambling Program comes in. In addition to profiting from gambling revenue, the B.C. government provides free information and resources to support informed choices and healthy gambling through the program, which is administered by the Community Supports Division within the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General in 18 different regions of B.C.

Pender Island resident David Nickoli is contracted to provide those free prevention and education services in the southern Gulf Islands, including on Salt Spring. He is a former school principal, has a masters degree in leadership and training, and is also involved with Pender’s Community Justice Program. He got involved with the B.C. Responsible and Problem Gambling Program after receiving a phone call from his niece, who was worried because her husband had come home with flowers and gifts after winning big at the casino.

Although that sounded fine at first, Nickoli, said, “She looked into their bank accounts and found out he’d lost more than he’d won.”

Nickoli set up a meeting with then-director of prevention services, Andre Serzisco, to talk about how the province needed to help people with problem gambling. Serzisco explained they already did that, but getting the word out could be difficult. After several more discussions, Serzisco decided the southern Gulf Islands really needed its own program. They created a part-time position for Nickoli and he completed specialized training to provide prevention and education. 

The B.C. Responsible and Problem Gambling Program takes a gambling neutral position, “recognizing that gambling is an individual choice and is best made with full knowledge of the facts, myths and risks associated with gambling products.” 

Nickoli points out that gambling is a legal and regulated activity in B.C., so the program does not attach any judgement to the activity.

“About 75 per cent of people of legal age in Canada choose to gamble as a form of recreation,” Nickoli said. “And for most of them, it’s not a problem.”

If 75 per cent sounds high, that’s because the definition of gambling includes anything in which a person puts up money or something else of value and there’s an element of chance that allows them to win or lose. That extends to lottery tickets, bingo and even 50/50 draws. Nickoli said most people gamble by playing Keno or buying lottery tickets, but internet gambling is also popular and has become even more so during COVID-19. The closure of casinos, race tracks and church halls has seen even more gambling migrate online.

BC Lottery hosts its own online gaming site at PlayNow.com, which allows people to set spending limits. Nickoli said there is “a plethora” of non-regulated sites that are just as easy to find, though, and it’s easy for people to spend too long and too much. He knows of stories on every one of the Gulf Islands where someone has lost everything they had — their home, their life savings and their relationships. 

An estimated 160,000 people in British Columbia are considered to have a gambling problem, and Nickoli said a high percentage of them will attempt suicide at some point.  

Part of his work in trying to prevent those situations is building gambling literacy.

“Research shows if we can teach people to play responsibly, hopefully folks won’t get into trouble, so we need to increase gambling literacy in the general population,” Nickoli said. “We’re not opposed to gambling. But if people choose to gamble we want them to do it with their eyes wide open so they can make good decisions.”

One of the most basic platforms in gambling literacy is “the house always wins.” Nickoli said people tend to get into trouble when they invest in the mythology they can come out ahead. Some people may look at gambling as a career. People in a lower socio-economic brackett may be looking for a way to escape their financial hardship. 

The losses always outweigh the gains, so a good approach is to set a budget for how much one can afford to lose and to stop when that limit is reached. Nickoli encourages people to keep accurate records that show every win and every loss, along with the dollar amounts. Setting a limit on how much time one will spend gambling in a day or a week is also a good idea.

Gambling literacy can and should start at a young age. Children encounter the same type of psychological impact of “intermittent reward” as gambling through social media and gaming. The aim for kids is to build capacity for critical thinking, self-regulation and healthy ways of finding happiness. Nickoli has created programs for children as young as three years old such as a themed StoryWalk that is now in use in all 18 districts, and has given workshops with fun games and activities at places like Fernwood Elementary School. 

He also gives presentations and workshops for youth and adults. 

Outreach support for people who believe they may have a gambling problem, or that someone close to them does, is provided locally by a woman who lives in Ladysmith.  She responds to phone calls within 48 hours and can help people decide whether they wish to get help, and can refer them to counselling or treatment programs from there.

Being open and honest about one’s gambling, both with oneself and with others, is a key indicator of whether the practice is healthy. Denying losses is a sign of potential trouble, Nickoli said. Other indications can be gambling every day, and gambling in lots of different formats.  

Fill out the online request form to access free prevention, treatment and support services, or contact the multilingual Gambling Support Line (24/7, toll free) at 1-888-795-6111. Contact David Nickoli about prevention and education services at david.nickoli@gmail.com, through the website BuildingHealthyCommunities.ca or the Building Healthy Communities: Southern Gulf Islands, BC page on Facebook.

More online resources are available at ChoicesAndChances.ca and
bcresponsiblegambling.ca

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