As the world continues to come to terms with Covid-19, more and more people find a route towards gambling. Casinos may be closed, but online gambling remains open and attracts new customers battling against boredom at home. Now, more than ever, help is supposed to be made available to those gamblers who need it most.
With an increased number of people spending more time at home because of Covid-19 restrictions, online gambling is at an all-time high. So, when a gambling helpline ceases to exist, it poses a problem. Those most vulnerable go to for help to avoid losing those things most valuable to them – their house, their job and their family.
Why GANS was Set up
In Nova Scotia, the Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia (GANS) was set up in 1998 to support communities and reduce the negative impact gambling can bring. Gambling can provide incredible highs, as well as devastating lows, which can lead to depression, among other things.
It was funded by money generated from Video Lottery Terminals (VLT) believed to be around CA$250,000, boosted by the province’s gaming authorities. The terminals have been dubbed ‘crack cocaine’ because of how addictive they can be and their effects not just on the individual but those closest to them.
Gamblers are drawn to VLTs like a moth to a flame because of their flashing lights, neon colours and catchy tunes calling new customers to try them out. The drop of the first coin can be compared to a seed of addiction being sown and helps to be made available to stop the habit from getting out of line.
Concerns about the Funding Cuts
The decision in the fall by the provincial government to cut funding to Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia, has raised concerns for those worried about the mental issues it may lead to.
'This is the time when people are most vulnerable,' said Bruce Dienes, chair of Gambling Risk-Informed Nova Scotia. 'In the middle of Covid-19? Isn't there more need to do this prevention work and community awareness work?'
Officials have gone on record to say that the money used to fund Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia will now be taken to provide support for dealing with mental health issues. GANS will not disappear from the Nova Scotia landscape. While it will not receive the same level of funding as it did in the past, it will now rely on handouts from the CA$300m budgets allocated to projects set up to deal with addiction and mental health issues.
Help will Be Available Elsewhere
Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness, believes those affected by gambling issues will still receive help for their addiction.
'Problem gambling often occurs with other mental health and addiction issues,' she said. 'Due to the stigma (of gambling), people often initially seek help for other issues. It's best if people can access support that addresses these issues together.'
Reports may show that gambling has decreased in recent years because of casinos’ closure during the lockdown. But Nova Scotia Department of Finances and Atlantic Lottery are hoping to provide more online wagering platforms for gamblers to use.
That is not the answer for those in danger of losing the things they have worked hard to possess. For some, the lucky ones, a lack of sport to bet on during lockdown helped to ease them away from the slippery road of addiction. For others, it means they have to look elsewhere for their fix of gambling. Therefore, it leads to gambling on sports they may not know much about, causing more lost bets and frustration.
More Support Needed when Casinos will Reopen
Earlier this year, video lottery terminals, various casinos and other gaming venues will be reopened, adhering to the social distancing guidelines set out by local authorities. And with that, gamblers will return to their greatest vice, which no longer has a safety net beneath them if they fall.
Not having helplines or places where people know they will receive the best available help could lead to increasing deaths. In the middle of a pandemic that has taken the lives of over two million people worldwide, the last thing any family needs to deal with is an additional death brought on from issues caused by gambling.
Maybe in the not too distant future, the help and support that gamblers need will be made available to them anytime and anywhere.