Counselor and drug addict fear launch of online gambling in Ontario could lead to more addiction

For the past 16 years, Chris Fogolin’s life has been consumed by his addiction to illegal online sports betting, which cost him family relationships, a few million dollars and, at one point, his house.

The 42-year-old construction worker is now enrolled in Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Intensive Gambling Addictions Program. As a lifelong sportsman, Fogolin remembers how easy it was to place a sports bet, which he once did while waiting for a bus.

“It got so bad that instead of buying a loaf of bread to make a sandwich, I was making a sports bet, hoping that by some chance I would win and have triple the money I started,” Fogolin said.

Next month, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), overseen by the Ontario government, will launch iGaming. It is marketed as a legal online gambling option which they claim guarantees “safer gambling”.

Nothing else could even come close to my next bet, that’s how haunting it was to me-Chris Fogolin

But when Fogolin thinks back to the convenience and ease of access to online gaming at his fingertips, he worries that the introduction of iGaming in Ontario could lead others down the same path.

“This disease dragged me down to the depths of hell, basically,” Fogolin said.

His gambling addiction became so intense that Fogolin found himself studying everything related to the sports game he was betting on – the weather, playing conditions and whether a quarterback was better day or night.

It started small, where Fogolin only played on weekends or at major sporting events. Eventually, he started betting more than 20 times a day, even on sports he didn’t know like table tennis.

“I would put everyone and everything in my life after my game – my mum, my dad, my brother, my girlfriend. Nothing else could even come close to my next bet, that’s how bad it is. was haunting to me,” Fogolin said.

At one point, he found himself sleeping on a park bench after gambling his rent money. This happened during the pandemic when homeless shelters were full and he had nowhere to go.

Fogolin’s bottom, he said, was criminally charged with theft and fraud in connection with his gambling addiction.

“Online has made it so much more accessible and easier for me to play,” he said.

“They are very, very surprised at how attractive online gambling is, how quickly they lose their money and how quickly they get sucked into the game.”​​​​​​– Diana Gabriele, Problem Gambling Advisor at HDGH

OLG launches its new online gaming service on April 4th. It allows companies to operate their own gaming websites on behalf of Ontario, if they have signed an agreement.

CBC News asked the provincial government if it is concerned that iGaming could have an effect on gambling addiction rates.

The Department of Finance, which oversees OLG as its sole shareholder, told CBC News that operators offering gaming services will be required to comply with “responsible gaming requirements and policies.”

“Importantly, a competitive iGaming marketplace will provide a safer alternative to the unregulated gray market websites that currently exist – and which may lack appropriate consumer protections or responsible gambling measures,” said Scott Blodgett. , spokesman for the Ministry of Finance. .

Diana Gabriele, Canadian Certified Problem Gambling Counselor at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. She predicts that the launch of iGaming will lead to more gambling addictions. (Jason Viau/CBC)

But a problem gambling adviser predicts that the arrival of this government-sanctioned online game will ultimately lead to more addictions.

“It’s very concerning,” said Diana Gabriele, Canadian Certified Problem Gambling Counselor at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. “It is very likely, in my opinion, that it will get worse.”

She hopes to see built-in tools to set limits on money and time spent gambling.

During the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, Gabriele said online gambling has become “very problematic” as casinos have been closed or placed under restrictions.

“They are very, very surprised at how attractive online gambling is, how quickly they lose their money and how quickly they get sucked into the game,” she said.

A clear red flag that someone may be experiencing gambling addiction is when they use money intended for other purposes, such as rent or savings accounts, Gabriele said.

It took Fologin 16 years to recognize this warning sign on his own, prompting him to seek help.

After sinking into a black hole of illegal gambling, drugs, alcohol, ruined relationships and a few million dollars in lost money, Fologin is finishing his three-week substance abuse program this week.

It has been about a month since he last bet on a sporting event.

The treatment allowed him to better understand why he turned to gambling and to learn tools to cope in case he wanted to start again.

“I feel hopeful,” he said. “There’s only one way for me now. I can’t wait to live my day-to-day life without playing.”

Once he left the gambling addiction program, Fologin said he was not alone. Her schedule is filled with “peer support meetings” at least three times a week and ongoing support from addiction counselors.

But he fears the government is giving people “lawful access to do what I’ve done for over a decade and some of those people might get to where I got to.”

“I don’t wish this on my worst enemy,” Fologin said.

Gambling Addiction Resources

If you, or someone you know, is showing signs of gambling addiction, resources are available to help you.

  • Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare Problem Gambling and Digital Addiction Center: 519-254-2112
  • Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline: 1-888-230-3505

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