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First ever women's gambling retreat

by Adam Jacobs

The Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation recently held a Women's Action Retreat on Problem Gambling. Pictured is executive director Celeste Gotell.
 WESTERN SHORE - Tanya (not her real name) has a steady, well-respected job.

 At first glance she looks like everyone else. But she's not like everyone else.

 Every day she fights an inner battle to contain her demons and keep her life on track. And that's why she's here.

 Tanya is an addictive gambler.

 And there are dozens more women just like her who are here at the Women's Action Retreat on Problem Gambling, hosted by the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation (NSGF), at Oak Island Resort late last month.

 Most of the women are here to heal. Some are here to help others. All are here to learn.

 She has been gamble-free for 19 months now. And she plans on staying that way. It began as a hobby, as it does for most, something for fun.

 At first it was a few quarters, then a few dollars and eventually she was borrowing money to gamble.

 "It just grew into this monster," Tanya said. "I've lost all of my RSPs, thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars," she said. "I had to declare bankruptcy. I hit my bottom."

 She said her problem went beyond the point of seeking the big win.

 "I was gone way beyond that," she said. "It was an escape to not deal with life. It's a tragic addiction."

 It was an intervention of sorts that convinced her to turn things around. Two of her close friends orchestrated her road to recovery by getting involved.

 Tanya eventually spent 28 days in a treatment centre.

 "This addiction can affect anyone. There's no class, no race, creed, religion, gender, there's none of that," she said. "Homemakers, lawyers, anyone."

 Tanya willingly attended the gambling session, and applauds the government for stepping forward in dealing with problem gambling. But she added it's not doing enough.

 The government, she said, is part of the problem by promoting gambling.

 "To attend this gives me more of an awareness," she said. "It gives me hope that the government is taking responsibility. They haven't taken full responsibility for the dreadful things that have happened.

 "I think gambling, they are funding these programs. However, they're not taking full responsibility. It's frustrating."

 That's where the gaming foundation comes in.

 "We have a unique role," said NSGF executive director Celeste Gotell. "Effectively, we're not part of government. We have a bird's-eye view and kind of take stock of what's going on and then provide funding to research or community organizations to identify the kinds of issues we're considering to be important."

 Ms Gotell admitted there are concerns about the government's responsibility.

 "One of the biggest issues in the gambling debate is that the government makes a significant amount of money from gambling revenue," she said. "That's not likely to change. Many people can gamble without ever developing an addiction. But there is a portion of the population that has serious addiction as it relates to gambling. They're the ones we need to be able to help."

 And it's not just casino and video lottery (VLT) gambling. People also can become addicted to various lotto tickets, bingo and other methods of gambling.

 Such is the reason for the retreat, which is the first of its kind in Nova Scotia. The event also gives groups such as Second Story Women's Centre some insight on how to deal with gambling addictions.

 In February, the centre created a support group for women gamblers.

 Sally Hutchinson, pro-ject co-ordinator for the gambling program, said funding from the NSGC has allowed them to help women in need.

 "In 2007 we invited women to just come in and talk in a confidential, non-threatening environment where they could feel free to say where they saw themselves with their gambling," she said. "There was a great fear of women being identified in the community as a gambler."

 Most of the problems revolved around VLT gambling.

 Focus groups followed in which the women identified the best and most comfortable methods to receive help.

 "The women who continue to meet are very courageous and honest," Ms Hutchinson said.

 As for Tanya, she said groups such as the NSGC and Second Story prove you don't have to fight the fight alone.

 "I think for me I need to continue to learn," she said. "I will never be a recovered gambler. I will always be recovering.

 "My life changed in a dramatic way. I'm happy, I'm contented. I just buried my mom. Before, while I was gambling, I would have gone and drowned my sorrows and gone gambling. Now I was able to be there for my father. I was able to face that."

 Any woman who feels gambling may be problematic for her and would like more information on the program can contact Ms Hutchinson at 543-1315 or 640-3044 ext. 17 or via e-mail at

posted on 10/07/08
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