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About gambling: Myths and facts

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For most people gambling is a leisure activity they enjoy doing once in a while. People play the lottery and bingo, go to a casino, or bet on horse races and sporting events. Proceeds or profits from gambling are often used to fund a charity, non-profit agency, or a community program.

What is gambling?

Gambling is the act of risking money, property, or something of value on an activity that has an uncertain outcome. Gambling takes many forms:

  • lottery, raffle, or scratch-and-win tickets/li>
  • betting on sports – in person or online
  • playing card games for money
  • playing games of skill for money – such a s pool, golf, arm wrestling, or darts
  • betting money on anything – like whether a friend will ask someone out or not

What is legalized gambling?​

Legalized gambling comes in many forms in Alberta. They include casinos, racetracks, video lottery terminals (VLTs), bingo, some online sport betting like Sport Select, and lotteries. These are legal because they're managed by the government or by regulations set by the government. The regulations include age limits as well. In Alberta, the legal age to gamble is 18. In other provinces or territories in Canada the legal age is 19.

What is illegal gambling?

Illegal gambling is gambling that happens outside of the government regulations. Placing a bet with a bookie on a professional sporting event is an example. A bookie is someone who accepts large bets from different people but isn't licensed or part of a regulated gambling business. Underage gambling is also illegal.

Why do people gamble?

People gamble for many reasons:

  • for fun or excitement
  • to escape or forget about problems
  • to win money
  • to feel challenged

Do young people gamble?

About 2 out of 3 young people gamble or have gambled at least once. Young people usually gamble through bets with friends on card games, pool games, or professional sports. Once they are aged 18 and older, they're allowed to play VLTs, gamble in casinos, and buy lottery tickets.

Is there such a thing as a safe bet?

All gambling or betting has some risk. Consider using these guidelines for gambling responsibly:

  • limit the amount of money you bet
  • limit the amount of time you spend betting
  • balance gambling with other social activities and interests
  • don't spend your winnings on gambling

Most people gamble responsibly. But for some people, gambling can be a lot like an addictive drug—and it can become a problem. People with gambling problems often have trouble with money, stress, and family or relationships. They may often feel guilty and out of control because of their gambling losses.

People with gambling problems may also get into trouble like gambling until all their money is gone, owing money to family and friends, and going into debt to pay for their gambling. This kind of trouble can cause stress, fear, pain, and embarrassment for the people involved.

Myths and facts

Many of the phrases we use in our everyday language have roots in gambling. Think of how many times you start a sentence with, "I bet…" Here are a few more examples:

  • "The odds are…"
  • "It's a sure thing!"
  • "a crapshoot."
  • "I have an ace in the hole."

It's a safe bet (another phrase that comes from gambling) that you've often used these phrases yourself. All these common sayings prove that gambling has been around a long time — long enough to have created some myths. Here are some popular myths and facts about gambling.

Myth: Gambling is a way to make money.

Fact: More often, gambling is a way to lose money. If you gamble, think of it as a kind of entertainment you have to pay for, just like a movie or dinner with friends. That can help you keep gambling in perspective. If you end up winning some money now and then, it'll be a nice treat instead of something you were depending on.

Myth: People can predict if a coin toss is going to come up heads or tails.

Fact: Each flip of the coin is an independent event. It doesn't matter what came up in the previous flips. The chance of heads or tails coming up in a single flip is 50%, no matter how many times you flip the coin.

Myth: There are systems that make it easier to predict winning lottery numbers.

Fact: It doesn't matter how you pick the numbers; your odds of winning are always the same. Take a lottery like Lotto 6/49 for example. All the numbers are put into a drum and mixed up. The selection is purely by chance. Each number has the same chance of being selected (a 1 in 49 chance to be exact). Your odds of winning the jackpot with 1 ticket are 1 in 13,983,816.

Myth: Most young people don't gamble.

Fact: About 2 out of 3 young people gamble or have gambled.

Myth: Young people don't develop gambling problems.

Fact: Young people tend to gamble with friends and not in a casino. That doesn't mean they can't develop gambling problems. In a 2005 survey of Alberta students in grades 7 to 12, about 2 out of every 100 students surveyed showed signs of problem gambling. About 4 out of every 100 students showed signs of being a t risk for developing problems with gambling.

Myth: People can usually win their money back if they have a losing streak.

Fact: Not true. Casinos stay in business because most people don't win their money back. Think about it. How long would a casino stay in business if it paid out more money than it took in? The fact is that most gamblers lose far more money than they win in these places.

Myth: Winning the lottery would put you on "easy street" or solve your money problems.

Fact: Not if you're under 18 years old. In Alberta, it's against government lottery regulat​ions for anyone under 18 to buy lottery tickets, collect lottery winnings, or play any other game sponsored by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. This includes scratch-and-win tickets.

For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the Addiction Help Line. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Current as of: June 15, 2022

Author: Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services