At 18, Jason Applebaum knew of gambling addition, but like most youth, thought he was invincible.
“[Young people] don’t get all the information before they start gambling,” says Applebaum. “I thought I knew everything.”
Applebaum, 34, is a recovering gambling-addict. At the height of his addiction he gambled $500 to $1,000 a day. In high school he was a part-time blackjack dealer in Toronto. After he graduated and started university, he returned to his career in gaming. He says the close proximity to a casino, and advancements in slot machines, took his addiction “over the edge.”
“That distance really escalated my gambling addiction to where I was going three or four days a week,” says Applebaum.
With the Toronto casino vote in April, Applebaum has been attending city council meetings to share his experiences as a former adolescent problem gambler. Last March, the Ontario Lottery and Gambling Corporation (OLG) announced its plan to build a casino in downtown Toronto. Backing the casino are Nevada-based MGM Resorts International, and the Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview Corporation. MGM was one of three casino companies that sent executives to Ryerson University and George Brown College earlier this week to promote jobs in the gaming industry to students.
“Ryerson University, University of Toronto, and other colleges downtown are going to be a big draw for the casino,” says Applebaum. “It’s just going to be a disaster for young people.”
Maureen Lynett, the co-founder of the No Casino Toronto activist group, says the closer a casino is to the population, the more problem gamblers and relapsing addicts. A 2010 study from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health that is posted on the No Casino Toronto website, found “very high” rates of substance abuse, mental health problems and delinquency among adolescent problem gamblers. Lynett says the OLG is purposefully targeting younger gamblers.
“One of the most vulnerable groups are particularly young men between 18 and 24 who are unemployed or underemployed,” says Lynett. “It’s something for young people to be alarmed by. Lots of them will go in and not be affected, but there are going to be the percentage that will, and it will be absolutely destructive to their lives.”
One Ryerson student says that a nearby casino would not affect him significantly.
“I’d probably go just to check it out, and if I liked it I might go more,” says Adrian Strupp, 28. Last month, Strupp organized a Texas Hold’em poker tournament at the university, but only 12 students registered.
“Video poker is taking over in the casinos,” says Strupp. “Even the slots tend to be fairly filled up because it’s something simple. People can just go in and plug their money in – you don’t even have to pull a crank anymore, you can just press a button.”
Applebaum says new casino technology is intentionally designed to for a young market. Last summer, he attended the Canadian Gaming Summit in Niagara Falls, where the latest slot machines had motion-simulation.
“Your slot machine chair is actually going to move to the bonus round,” says Applebaum. “It’s pretty sinister what they’re going for — it’s pretty obvious that they’re not going for the middle-age class anymore. They’re going for younger kids because they know that’s where the future is.”