Compulsive Gambling: The Invisible Addiction Of Ottawa-Based Bus Driver

Noah Vineberg a bus driver based in Ottawa, also a father, aged 48, described himself as a compulsive gambler in recovery. He is now celebrating four years of abstinence from gambling.

He traces the roots of his addiction to a very tender age. In elementary school he used to trade marbles and hockey cards on the schoolyard, and in his late teens he realized that his gambling was “heavier than anybody else…I knew that I definitely had a problem,” he said.

Tell-Tale Signs Gambling Had Become A Problem

Gambling took over Vineberg’s life, to the point that it affected his relationships and his work, apart from depleting his personal finances and threatening his life.

His family were losing on his income as he was siphoning off a percentage of his paycheck and keeping it in a separate account to cover up his habit. He also opened up secret credit cards and lines of credit to finance his gambling.

Calling sick from work was a common thing for Vineberg, just so that he could focus on making more bets. Even at work, gambling was always at the back of his mind:  "Once I stopped the bus with people on it and ran into a bar to see the final shot of a game that I was waiting to have a big outcome on," he shared.

Vineberg said he considered taking his own life, at a time when he owed $75,000. But he was able to recover through a program at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare (HDGH) in Windsor, Ontario.

Professionals Caution Against This Invisible Addiction

Diana Gabriele, a gambling counselor at HDGH, refers to gambling as “the invisible addiction,” with barely any visible effects, compared with drugs or alcohol. Nonetheless, it is still an addiction.

Amanda Laprade, another counsellor in the area, said that the dopamine the brain receives while anticipating a result is just as powerful as when the result actually happens. That's what makes it so addictive.

There is certainly an allure, seeing those reels turn whilst keeping your fingers crossed hoping to win real money – irrespective of whether you’re trying your luck at a brick and mortar resort or a no deposit online casino.

But, the necessity of addressing an alarming rise in problem gambling has never been so crucial. Moreover, it is the operators’ onus to promote this practice responsibly, and if not, they need to be held accountable for not offering the right channels of support.

The Dangers of Increasing Accessibility 

Gambling has long been one of Americans' favorite pastimes. And since 2018, access to it has only gotten easier, as the Supreme Court overturned a decision that limited sports betting to Nevada.

Kevin Whyte, an executive director, spoke on behalf of the National Council on Problem Gambling: “We believe that the expansion of online gambling, including sports betting, has increased the severity and rate of gambling problems”.

The dangers are real. Gambling counselor Diana Gabriele further warns: “We've seen people go from six-figure incomes and very lucrative, satisfying jobs to living on the streets because of gambling.”

Alarmingly, victims who struggle with this problem are also at the highest risk of suicide, more than any other addiction​​​​​.

The Signs and How to Pull Yourself Out of The Gutter

There are certainly some major red flags to look out for, such as spending more money than you intended to or pulling money from other sources to support your habit. Another concerning sign is if your habit starts to impact other aspects of your life, like jeopardizing your significant relationships, career opportunities or education. Constantly thinking about your next gamble is another common symptom.

The first step to getting out of this cycle is to acknowledge the issue and ensure you have systems in place to prevent you from going back.

The second step is to look at your finances and consider anything that might help you: everything from debt consolidation or refinancing your mortgage to filing a consumer proposal or declaring bankruptcy.

Final Piece of Advice From The Horse’s Mouth 

Vineberg said he's thankful he didn't have to deal with the influx and ease of sports gambling before he stopped.

Although he doesn't believe gambling should be abolished, he still believes that “programs have to be there and you can't inundate everybody [with ads] without some sort of safety net," he said.

Perhaps Vineberg’s best piece of advice was the one he offered to his 27-year-old son: “I don't tell him not to gamble,” says Vineberg. “I tell him … that if you start to notice that you can't go without it, don't be afraid to reach out for some help.”