Problem Gambling

Gambling is when you bet money or valuables to win something of greater value but you do not know if you will win or lose.

Gambling activities include slot machines, lottery tickets, bingo, casino games like blackjack or poker, betting on sports and online casino games.

Some people may gamble as a form of entertainment and can limit the time and money spent gambling. This is also known as no-risk gambling. The person does not experience negative effects or harms from gambling. If a person has trouble limiting time or money, it may be a problem. As time and money spent on gambling increases, the person can experience more severe harms.

Some people are more likely to develop problems with gambling. Learn more about risk factors.

Stigma around gambling problems can keep people from getting the help they need. It can make a person feel alone and without support.

Other reasons people may not reach out for help:

  • Do not understand that gambling is causing problems.
  • Avoiding the issue in hopes that things will get better.
  • Do not know that treatment and support can help.
  • Not aware of local services and supports.
  • Afraid of what family or friends will think.
  • Worried about their job if their boss finds out.

It is important to know that gambling problems are real. Treatment and support can help like with substance use problems.

For more information on how to help reduce the risk of developing problems with gambling, cutting down or stopping, please visit the self-help tools on our website.

What is problem gambling?

Not all gambling is a problem. If people choose to gamble, it is important to follow some steps to prevent gambling from becoming a problem. For some people, gambling may become a serious problem that affects their finances, their family, work and their mental and physical health.

People from all age groups, income groups, and cultures can experience problems with gambling. Gambling problems can begin suddenly for some, while for others they may develop over the course of many years.  

There are many reasons why a gambling problem may develop. For example, some people develop problems when they try to win back money they have lost, while others have stresses in their life that make gambling a welcome relief. Many other factors can contribute as well.

When is gambling a problem?

Warning signs of problem gambling

Are you wondering whether you, or someone you know, has a problem with gambling?

Fill out this quiz and find out!

Do you think your gambling may have become a problem?

Help is available!

Warning signs of problem gambling 

Problems with gambling are similar with alcohol and substance use problems. The person is unable to control their impulses and continues the action even though it has a negative effect on them.

There are usually no visible signs or physical changes that will indicate a gambling problem, but there are some common behavioural, emotional, health and financial signs of problem gambling. Here is a quick checklist of some of the signs of problem gambling:

  • Gambling to escape other worries.
  • Playing longer than expected or planned.
  • Missing work, school, family events because of gambling.
  • Gambling with money meant for essentials like food or rent/mortgage.
  • Borrowing money to gamble or pay off gambling debts.
  • Promising to stop gambling, but continuing to play.
  • Experiencing mood or personality changes as gambling continues.
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide due to gambling.

For more warning signs and other information on signs that gambling has become a problem, please visit the Problem Gambling website.

Are you wondering if you, or someone you know, has a problem with gambling?

Fill out this quiz and find out!


Admitting to having a problem with gambling can be hard. It can also be difficult to understand how someone else's gambling got out of control. Hearing stories from those that have lived it may help.




We would like to thank everyone in the videos who are helping others find support by sharing their own story.

Ottawa Public Health would also like to thank the Responsible Gambling Council for all their work in putting together these stories of recovery.

Worried about gambling? Take the Quiz!

Are you wondering if you, or someone you know, has a problem with gambling?

Fill out this quiz and find out!

There are resources available to help reduce the risk of developing problems with gambling, and to help you reduce or stop gambling.

Do you think your gambling may have become a problem? There is help available.

Suicide? What to do if you are feeling suicidal

If you or someone you know is in distress, please call one of the numbers below right away (24 Hour Help Lines):

For a full list of Mental Health and Substance Use Services in Ottawa please visit our Mental Health and Substance Use Resource List webpage.

Risk factors

A number of risk factors can contribute to the development of gambling problems or make it more difficult to stop. People are more at risk if they: 

  • Have an early big win (leading to false expectation of future wins).
  • Have easy access to their preferred form of gambling.
  • Hold mistaken beliefs about the odds of winning.
  • Do not take steps to monitor gambling wins and losses.
  • Have had a recent loss or change, such as divorce, job loss, retirement or death of a loved one.
  • Often feel bored or lonely, or have a history of risk-taking or impulsive behaviour.
  • Have financial problems.
  • Have few interests or hobbies, or feel their lives lack direction.
  • Have a history of mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety.
  • Have been abused or traumatized.
  • Have a parent who also has (or has had) problems with gambling.
  • Have (or have had) problems with alcohol or other drugs, gambling or overspending.
  • Tie their self-esteem to gambling wins or losses.

The more factors that apply, the more likely a person is to develop a gambling problem.

(Adapted from

Self help tools

Do you gamble? These interactive tools will help you explore, cut down or stop gambling.


Do you think your gambling may have become a problem? There is help available.
Safer Gambling Tips

If you choose to gamble, here are a few tips:

  • Set a budget, like what you might spend on other entertainment, do not use grocery or rent money.
  • Set a time limit, some gambling games are designed so that you lose track of time.
  • Don’t think of gambling as a way to make money, the odds are you will lose money in the long run.
  • Balance gambling with other activities.
  • Limit alcohol when gambling.
  • Don’t borrow money to gamble.
More information on how to make gambling safer, please visit the Responsible Gambling Council website.
How gambling really works

If you choose to gamble, it is important to know how gambling works and what the chances of winning actually are:

For example:

Odds of winning LottoMax jackpot are 1 in 28,000,000

Odds of winning Lotto649 jackpot are 1 in 14,000,000

More information about the odds, please visit the Problem Gambling website.

Information for parents
Please visit our website for parents at

Worried about someone's gambling?

Here are a few tips to consider before talking to the person:

  • Bring up your concerns when they are already talking about gambling or their regrets of doing it.
  • Express your concerns with “I” phrases like “I feel” or “I think”.
  • Stay calm when you are speaking with them.
  • Be clear about your worries and what you are asking the person to do to help the situation.
  • Remember that gambling is only one part of the person’s life and focus on their good qualities.
  • Have a support system in place such as a friend or counsellor.

  • Get help for yourself. There are counsellors and support groups that can give practical tools and information.
If you are worried about a negative response such as a violent reaction, have your support person present and reach out for more crisis support.


(Adapted from OLG PlaySmart and the Responsible Gambling Council)
Where to get help

Where can I get help?

If you think you or someone you know has a gambling problem, help is available. All services are free and confidential. 

Ottawa residents can call:

ConnexOntario provides confidential support and information about local counselling services for individuals with gambling problems and their families and friend. Contact through live chat, email, or call 1-866-531-2600.

Prevention and treatment service providers available in Ottawa:

Local Ottawa Network 

The Ottawa Gambling Harm Prevention Network (OGHPN) is part of a four-point plan accepted by the Ottawa Board of Health from the report called: A Public Health Approach to Reducing Harms from Gambling in Ottawa.

The mission of the OGHPN is to work together with partners to raise awareness of the harms around gambling, to help people make better decisions about gambling and to develop plans to prevent gambling harms in Ottawa.


  • Amethyst Women’s Addition Centre
  • Carleton University Gambling Lab
  • Centretown Community Health Centre: Lifestyle Enrichment for Seniors
  • Champlain Local Health Integration Network
  • Hard Rock Casino Ottawa
  • Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation
  • Ottawa Public Health
  • Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services
  • Resolve Credit and Financial Counselling
  • Responsible Gambling Council
  • Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
  • Youth Gambling Awareness Program (YMCA-YWCA)

Contact Us