It’s fun until you lose everything (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/06/2005

Gambling wears an alluring face these days. It’s served up on television in the form of powerful men in dark shades playing a high-stakes game of poker. Or maybe it’s ladies’ night when beautiful women take their turn at the table. Or it’s Hollywood celebrities anteing up.

A favourite past-time for the likes of Ben Affleck, poker has taken off as a spectator sport. It’s a far cry from Hollywood’s stereotypical gambling addict in a gaudy checkered suit betting on the ponies. On-screen gamblers have moved from shady mafia-types and assorted ne’er-do-wells to members of the jet-set crowd.

And with them come a legion of fans and players. The

New York Times

reported in March that poker has spread across university campuses where tournaments offer prizes worth $100,000 and higher. And the

Edmonton Journal

reports high school students are just as hooked, with kids regularly organizing their own poker nights.

While television promotes gambling, the Internet makes it accessible for all, all the time. The end result is a young generation seduced by the excitement and easy money poker offers.

But there’s another face to gambling. It’s an addiction that sees people turn their backs on friends, family and work as they pursue the wins that will pull them out of their downward financial spirals. The doting husband and father becomes the secretive loser, stealing $20 from his child’s piggy bank. The once-valued employee skips off work to place bets, and steals from his employer to keep up his habit.

Just like a drug addict, behaviour changes, responsibilities are ignored and sterling performance reviews turn into reports of absenteeism and a shoddy work ethic. Accounts are lost. Jobs are lost. Lives are destroyed.

So while television producers advertise the good times and websites fuel the flames, HR can start preparing for an upswing in gambling problems in the workplace. The Edmonton high-schooler getting started today can look forward to entrenching his addiction in college before joining your firm. He may surf some gambling sites at work before he heads off to one of the 6,000 video lottery terminals (VLTs) Alberta has authorized.

Many provincial governments are themselves hooked on gambling, enjoying the tax revenues generated by people’s misfortune. Nova Scotia has decided to trim back the number of VLTs and their hours of operations. Alberta decided to cap the number at 6,000. Government would rather downsize the problem than eliminate it. Just how many gambling addicts stealing from their families and employers are acceptable?

It’s not about advocating prohibition. Such measures don’t work — as witnessed by attempts to ban alcohol in the past or drugs today. It just seems that gambling was better contained when people had to go to the race track or Vegas, when it was the domain of criminals and losers instead of the fashionable crowd. Unfortunately, too many people in the coming work generation will learn the hard way. Ben Affleck can afford to drop a few hundred thousand. Employers can’t afford the wave of addicts about to arrive on their doors.

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