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Rolling the dice

Research shows that gambling is unhealthy, so why do public leaders continue to promote it?

By Carolyn Pogue

The email read, “Dear Carolyn, can you please help me to lobby against online gambling? Please let me know. In Friendship, Judith,” That message spoke volumes.

Judith and I met years ago at Scarboro United Church in Calgary. I still remember how happy she was introducing her fiancée, Robert. Judith had waited a long time to find Mr. Right. But as it turned out, he wasn’t.

Robert’s problems began to reveal themselves only weeks after their wedding. His formal diagnosis was “pathological gambler.” Judith pledged to work with him, but it was not to be. Eight months after their wedding, she found Robert dead in their garage. He had used his cell phone to leave a farewell message on their landline: “I love you, but I just can’t take this anymore.” The car trunk contained lottery tickets and some cash. Shortly after, his death certificate noted that the suicide was a result of his gambling addiction.

Sudden death calls up many feelings, one of which is rage. As she worked through grief, family dynamics and financial challenges, Judith took that rage and transformed it with love. She became an anti-gambling advocate. She spoke to media, the public and government leaders. She worked with psychologist Dr. Teeya Scholten to develop a workshop in memory of Robert. It was then presented to groups, such as the Calgary Board Of Education staff and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. Frankly, I was in awe of her strength and power.

Judith Snell in her home in December 2014.
Judith Snell in her home in December 2014.
Here in Alberta, online gambling has sounded its siren call, so Judith is stepping up her campaign. As she continues this very personal and public work — that's in addition to her paid work in a mental health treatment program for youth — she observes that most people don’t seem to understand the dangers. “Computer gamers are a dead target for online gambling,” she says. “Many youth are gamers, especially those suffering from mental illness.”

Although research shows that gambling is unhealthy, public leaders continue to allow or promote it. Governments are addicted to it. Charities and arts institutions are forced to rely on gambling money because, we’re told, that’s all there is. Meanwhile, parents are pressured to work “casino nights” to generate funds for schools or sports programs. Using tax money for the public good? Not in the cards, evidently.

The United Church of Canada, one of many organizations that helps people after lives fall apart, has always had something to say about gambling: “We believe that gambling, including lotteries, exploits the vulnerable, feeds addictive behaviours, reinforces a vision of a society made of "winners" and "losers," and increases economic inequality.

We also believe that charities that are part of the social safety net should be . . . supported by all taxpayers.”

Judith says: "Smokers are now suing governments. Maybe individuals hurt by gambling will consider legal action against governments and casinos next. Suicide can be one result of this addiction, as can loss of poor mental and physical health, financial ruin, family and relationship breakdown and more addictions, such as sex, drugs and alcohol . . . Like advertisements on tobacco packages, gambling warning signs should also be made visible.”

Last week, the Globe and Mail published Josh Wingrove’s story about Fort MacMurray’s response to dropping oil prices. “This is a classic boom town saga, featuring stunning growth, seat-of-the-pants planning and now a quintessentially Canadian solution — visions of a gleaming new arena, hotel and casino complex . . .”

Really?  

Gambling may seem acceptable and mainstream, but then smoking and beating children once seemed that way, too.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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