The following stories are true accounts, as told by individuals who have received counselling with Gambling Support Services. They have agreed to share with others so that they may feel hopeful about overcoming a gambling problem. Their names have been changed to protect their anonymity.
Donna is a confident, energetic 65 year old woman who has a gambling problem. She began gambling 15 years ago in Las Vegas while on holidays with friends. On one trip in particular, she realized she had a problem when she lost all of her trip money and had to borrow money from her friend just to buy breakfast. She vowed never to go into a casino again…that was until a casino opened in her home town. At first, she felt she would be safe by bringing a friend and only $20 along with her to the local casino. During subsequent casino visits, the $20 grew to $40 and she stopped bringing her friends because they didn’t want to stay long enough. There were days where she stayed at the casino for over 8 hours. Over time, the money amounts and the time she spent there grew and grew. Donna hid her gambling from everyone. She knew she had a problem but couldn’t quite see herself as a “compulsive” gambler; after all, she was intelligent, had money, owned a house… But soon, all of her RRSPs were gone, her credit cards were maxed, and she kept telling herself that she would win it back. Deep down, she knew this wasn’t going to happen. Donna’s revelation happened one night when she was playing her usual slot machine. She called a casino employee who she had never seen before to help clean up a mess. She introduced herself to him, adding that she was a regular customer. He said “I know.” Those two words changed everything for Donna. He knew her…she didn’t know him. That meant she was more than just a “regular”. She felt exposed and embarrassed. Later that day, she told her adult children about her gambling. They rallied around her, helping her look after her finances and find out about options for treatment. Donna needed someone who would listen and provide a positive healing process for her. She says she found this with the Gambling Support Service. She was able to talk and not just about gambling but her whole life. She says it was a holistic approach that didn’t keep her stuck in the negative. The counsellor listened, guided and challenged her thinking. She learned strategies to help her change. Today Donna knows her strategies are in place and keeps her strong support network. She has not gambled in 6 months and has no urge to go back. She knows she can always call her counsellor at Gambling Support Services if she needs to. She feels in control again. She says she is surrounded by good things and the future is up to her.
Bill started to gamble about ten years ago when a casino opened in his community. Bill and his fiancee went to the grand opening with $20 and won $2000 at the slots. They were both elated, immediately taking the money and paying off their bills. Later, when he wanted to take his family on a vacation, he remembered winning at the casino and how easy it was. He took a large cash bonus he received from work and lost the entire amount in one night … he walked out with nothing. Bill recalls that his next mistake was not telling his wife. He decided to hide the fact that he lost the money by taking out a loan and planned to slowly repay it without her knowing. This began a cycle of borrowing more and more money, losing it to gambling, then borrowing again. Eventually he confided in his wife and they tried to correct their financial situation. However, Bill continued to gamble uncontrollably, all the while denying he had a problem. A couple of times he had large winnings and paid off some of his loans, but eventually lost that amount and more. Again the cycle continued until he could not manage financially; he told his wife once again. This cycle repeated itself another couple of times, after which his wife insisted he stop gambling and seek help. Bill found the number for Gambling Support Services (GSS) in his doctor’s office and he decided to call. Bill found the service was personal and felt comfortable with the one-on-one approach. Since Bill’s wife was still having difficulty understanding the addiction, she was invited to speak with the gambling counsellor who provided her with information and strategies. The counsellor also arranged for Bill to attend a 3 week inpatient gambling “rehab” centre in Windsor. After the inpatient treatment, he (and his wife) continued to see a counsellor at Gambling Support Services. During this time, Bill says he realized how much he loved and missed his family and what he had to lose. He learned how to deal with feelings and emotions and emphasizes how much this has helped him. Although he felt confident about staying away from gambling when he left the rehab centre, he realized that to keep on track he needed to stick with counselling to help deal with his urges to gamble. In spite of these challenges, Bill feels good about the changes he is making. He is moving forward, in a positive direction, toward the things in life he feels are most important.