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All In Series: COVID & Gambling

July 13, 2021

COVID-19 has been a harsh reminder about our fragility and the importance of humanity. Caring for and helping others through the turbulence, hardship and isolation is necessary to give us hope for the future. In 2020, as the world was grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, here in Ontario, RGC was eager to understand the impact of COVID-19 on individual’s gambling behaviour. We wanted to determine if there were unique risks that needed to be addressed on a humanitarian level:

Was there additional prevention education that RGC needed to provide to individuals during these trying times?

RGC was concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on individual’s gambling behaviour. Especially those who were having the hardest time coping with the stress and isolation associated with the pandemic, due to loss of income, mental health issues and addictions. In response, we conducted a longitudinal study between April-December 2020. We found that a sizeable percentage of individuals increased their online gambling involvement during this period, spending more time and money and playing on more sites. Those who were at highest risk of moderate to high risk for problem gambling were individuals with severe anxiety or depression, loss of income, gambling while intoxicated, gambling to earn income or to cope with their mental health issues. Young adults, 18-35 years, especially males, and individuals from East Asian and South Asian backgrounds were at the highest risk.

Prevention education surfaced as a critical need during this time of distress. All RGC programs – typically direct service in nature – were digitally transformed to meet the needs of the situation.

Using the evidence as a guide, programs were developed to provide high priority groups with greater access to key information about the importance of setting time and money limits, avoid gambling online when intoxicated or while anxious or depressed. We also developed digital versions of our prevention education programs for youth to increase our reach for this priority group.

The impacts of COVID have taught us many lessons and in particular the importance of pivoting to meet the needs of people and communities where they are now.

Simultaneously, we also looked inward to express the same commitment of humanity to our team. Over the past year, we focused on increasing the mental health supports that we offered to our own staff, to provide them with more care and support. With everyone working from home, we were concerned that some of our employees would be struggling with isolation, as well as increased anxiety or depression due to the stress of the situation. As an organization, we came together to provide weekly touchpoints, mental health resources and check-ins, assisted with setting up safe and comfortable home offices, conducted monthly virtual team-building events and added more communication and engagement activities.

As a leader, did you implement any changes that helped you adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic? What is one lesson you take with you as we recover from the pandemic?


Shelley White is one of Canada’s foremost visionary leaders, and has dedicated her life and career to empowering organizations that create better futures for thousands of people in their communities. In 2017, she became the new CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC).


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