Toronto resident Jason Applebaum shares his story at CAMH Addictions Rounds
Gambling put Jason Applebaum into “the zone” – a space where his anxieties and fears dissolved, his energy and confidence soared, and “gambling was all that mattered.”
But in quiet moments away from the Casino, he was doing some soul-searching. He had recently lost six weekly paycheques in two days. “What happened?,” he asked himself on a bus ride home in the wee hours. “How did this happen? Am I a problem gambler?” He started to do some online research.
He also requested a statement from the casino detailing his wins and losses. It painted a devastating picture of how he was “chasing losses” on almost a daily basis. He might win $500 one day, then lose more than $1,000 on each of several consecutive days. The statement showed a relentless cycle of financial loss. Plus, he was taking so-called “pay day” loans – essentially an advance on his paycheque at exorbitant interest rates of 20%-plus – to stay solvent.
Now a public speaker on gambling problems, Jason Applebaum attended Gamblers Anonymous and sought treatment at several programs including CAMH during his recovery.
Jason shared his experience with CAMH employees at a recent Addictions Rounds presentation.
“We often think about the recovery journey, but there is also the journey into addictions,” said Wayne Skinner, Deputy Clinical Director Addictions Services, who chaired the session. “Jason’s story is powerful in showing both sides.”
Jason’s affinity for gambling started early. He won big at bingo as a seven-year-old. In his late teens, armed with fake ID, he made his first trip to Vegas.
Looking back, Jason identified several key risk factors that contributed to his problem gambling:
- A “big win” early – starting with his childhood win of $600 U.S. on a bingo cruise with family
- Erroneous beliefs – such as believing in a “hot streak” versus the random nature of wins, and believing a smart gambler could make money over the long term
- Proximity to a casino – he started gambling more often when he moved to an Ontario city with a casino located seven kilometers from his home
- Continuous exposure to gambling – triggered when he got a job in the gambling industry
- Financial problems that he believe he could fix through a big win
- Mental health problems – his long-standing social anxiety that gambling temporarily masked.
During his soul-searching, “I looked at myself 10 years down the road, and I knew I needed help.” His losses were approaching six figures. From that point, it took about a year to start seeking support from Gamblers Anonymous, outpatient treatment, and online resources.
There was no magic bullet, and it took many years, but Jason persisted. He quit his job in the industry and moved to a new home – to put space between himself and casino temptation. In 2011, he created a personal wellness recovery plan, pulling together elements of his previous attempts to quit. Pieces of his recovery puzzle included:
- Gamblers Anonymous – finding out he was not alone, and getting support
- Friends and family – speaking to them openly about his issues, gaining their support
- Relapse – knowing this was a risk, and persisting with his plan
- Exercise and nutrition – As a 32-year-old, he took up his childhood sport of hockey again; he played several times a week and realized that every night playing hockey was a night away from the casino
- Self-exclusion – requesting a formal service offered by casinos that aims to prevent the gambler from entering
- Treatment: including group and individual counselling at CAMH, and an intensive 5-day program at the Halton-based ADAPT program.
Today, Jason is committed to helping others avoid what he went through. He’s started a business as a public speaker committed to reducing problem gambling and its harm. He has spoken to casino employees and community partners, gaming officials, as well as CAMH and other organizations in the prevention and treatment community.
Knowledge is the key. “I want to ensure people have all the right information to make good decisions.” For example, Jason asks: “Would you invest $1,000 in an RRSP that was guaranteed to lose 10 per cent a year for the next 10 years? Nobody would do that.” But that’s an accurate or even conservative illustration of the relentless margin that casinos extract from regular gamblers. The responsible gaming advertisements tell you to know your limit and play within it, but as Jason’s story shows, there is no legislated limit to the financial loss and impact on an individual or family.
“People should be equipped with information to be able to respect casinos as a business: to understand how the games work, to know if they have a problem and where to get help,” he says.
Watch the full video of Jason’s presentation.
For more information on Jason, please visit responsiblegamblingservices.ca