Ray Reshke, executive director of the Alberta-based non-profit Problem Gambling Resources Network, said Alberta’s gradual approach is prudent. “I think it’s a responsible move on their part,” he says. His group hasn’t yet seen an uptick in people seeking help for online gambling addiction, “but they’re coming. With more and more gambling opportunities, more people who are at risk are probably going to participate. So it is a concern.”
Robert Williams, a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Lethbridge and research coordinator for the Alberta Gambling Research Institute, said sports betting is relatively uncommon in Canada compared to lottery tickets, slot machines and VLTs. Still, the novelty of new gambling opportunities might lead to a small jump in problem gambling.
“Any time a new form of gambling is introduced, you tend to have a little bit of hoopla and overexuberance associated with it, more people participating and more people harmed,” he said, but because such a small percentage of people engage with in-game sports betting, he says the uptick will not be significant.
Williams said problem gambling in Canada has declined over the last 20 years as people have become more aware of the dangers. Even so, he criticized the recent bombardment of sports betting advertisements.
“Advertising increases patronization of a product, but most worrisome is that it has a disproportionate impact on people trying to give up the habit. This is partly why you’re not allowed to advertise tobacco, you’re not allowed to advertise cannabis, and there are very restricted circumstances where you can advertise alcohol,” he said, “So it’s very inconsistent that anything seems to go for gambling, which is just as addictive.”