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Robert Barron column: Some people have serious gambling addictions

Sean sat plugging money into the machine for hours until he lost almost half
Robert’s column

I’ve never been much of a gambler.

I think a big part of that is because I’ve never made loads of money so I could never really afford to lose large amounts of it to an activity that is so risky and, in my view, foolish.

I recall years ago when my girlfriend at the time and I were in a pub with gambling machines and she suggested we commit $20 to the machines and when/if we lost it, we’d stop.

It took all of about three minutes to lose it and we did, indeed, stop gambling and walked away.

But I felt cheated out of my hard-earned $20 all the same and thought I’d earned the right to haul the machine that we lost the money in home so I could take a hammer to it and retrieve my cash.

(I’ve noted over the years that when any of friends are planning a trip to Las Vegas, I always seem to be left off the invite list.)

But there’s no doubt that a lot of people across Canada, and around the globe, have gambling problems.

The most recent statistics that I could find suggest that approximately 350 million people around the world have problematic gambling habits and, of these, around 220,000 reside in Canada.

The most serious gambling addicts in Canada often lose more than a whopping $500,000 a year!

It’s quite obvious these people have a lot more money than me to play with.

I’ve seen problem gambling up close with a friend of mine, whom I shall call Sean so as not to embarrass him by revealing his real name.

I was living and working in a small community in Newfoundland in the early 1990s when Sean, who was also working in a nearby town, called me and said he was unexpectedly being laid off.

He said he was broke and had nowhere to go, so I told him he could come to my home until he got things straightened out.

So Sean made his way to my place and filed an employment insurance claim, and was informed that his first claim check could be expected in four to six weeks.

As mentioned, Sean, who was never known for fiscal responsibility, had no money so he spent the next month hanging around my apartment and eating my food until his first EI cheque arrived.

It was actually two cheques worth a total of about $950 and Sean was more than delighted to finally have a much needed financial boost.

I dropped him off at the bank to cash his cheques before heading to work and I didn’t see him again until that evening when I arrived home.

I saw that Sean was more than a little despondent about something and it wasn’t long before he revealed that after getting his money, he headed to the town pub where he discovered a lone gambling machine on the bar.

Apparently, Sean sat plugging money into the machine for hours until he lost almost half of the $950 that he received just hours before.

I was astonished and appalled and told him that I hoped he learned a valuable lesson and suggested he reserve what was left for necessities.

I went to work again the next day and Sean was not at home when I returned.

When he showed up at around 10 p.m., he told me he wanted to win back the money he had lost so he went back to the bar and plugged the rest of his money in the machine, losing it all.

He was so embarrassed and ashamed of himself that he left the next morning before I got up and hitchhiked to St. John’s, which is about an eight-hour drive on a good day, in the middle of winter.

When we talked again, I suggested he should get some help for his problem.

I don’t know if he ever did, but it really opened my eyes as to what a big problem gambling can be in some people’s lives.

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