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Towards Low-Risk Gambling Guidelines

​Gambling is a legal activity, but it poses potential risks that raise public health concerns. Although most Canadians who gamble do so without developing problems, some experience gambling-related harms. What’s more, many who choose to gamble also use alcohol or other substances. In this context, CCSA is developing Canada’s first National Low-Risk Gambling Guidelines (LRGGs) to minimize for Canadians the harms related to gambling.

Gambling in Canada

  • Canadian Gambling Digest 2013-2014, prepared by the Responsible Gambling Council, found that between 67% and 87% of Canadians gamble.

  • According to the same report, the average percentage of problem gamblers, using the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, is 0.9%, while the average percentage of moderate gamblers is 2.6%.

Gambling problems co-exist at a high rate with alcohol dependence and problematic substance use:

  • A Quebec study found that probable pathological gamblers are more likely to use drugs, drink problematically and have an alcohol dependency compared to problem-free, low-risk and moderate-risk gamblers.

  • In a U.S. study with a sample recruited from treatment centres, about 70% of individuals who had gambling problems also met the criteria for alcohol dependence.

  • A recent U.S. study found that almost one in five people who have abused or are dependent on alcohol also have a gambling problem.

  • The same study found that one in three cannabis users report having a gambling problem. The overall rate of problem gambling in the sample was less than one in 20.

Developing low-risk gambling guidelines

CCSA has identified the need for evidence-informed guidelines to help Canadians make well-informed, responsible decisions about their gambling behaviour and so avoid gambling-related harms. Even though there is evidence that individuals who gamble frequently consume alcohol and other substances, few educational and policy initiatives developed to prevent gambling problems take into account the frequent co-occurrence of these behaviours.

The Quebec-based Mise sur toi Foundation is funding the LRGGs, which CCSA will develop based on the answer to one central question: What are the safe gambling limits that can help prevent and reduce the harms associated with gambling and substance use?

Developing the LRGGs will require CCSA to consider a number of related questions:

  • At what point does the level of gambling engagement (i.e., frequency, expenditure, duration) increase the risk of harm?

  • Does gambling when using alcohol or other substances increase that risk?

  • What other risk factors, such as an individual’s characteristics, are involved?

At the end of the four-year project, CCSA will deliver a technical report on the LRGGs to inform public awareness campaigns, as well as professional training and capacity building programs aimed at preventing and reducing gambling-related harms. The LRGGs could potentially be applicable to other countries as well.