By Erin Rankin
While Ryerson may have a no cigarettes, no booze policy when it comes to advertising, it doesn’t seem to have a problem with Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation hocking gambling products like Pro-Line to students on campus.
With slick messaging like, “Because anything can happen,” the men’s washroom now sports eye-level ads that encourage students and faculty to spend their money and try their luck.
Research suggests that advertisers know what they’re doing. Gambling is more popular among males than females. And males like to gamble on cards, sports pools, and sporting events, according to McGill University’s Centre for Youth Gambling.
In the United States, gross gambling revenues for 1996 were almost $47 billion, which was greater than the combined revenues of $40 billion from film box office, recorded music, cruise ships, spectator sports and live entertainment.
John Corallo, Ryerson’s director of ancillary services, is responsible for approving all on-campus advertising. He says he plays Pro-Line and doesn’t seen a problem with it.
“I’m not sure Pro-Line is gambling,” said Corallo, adding, “it’s like the lotto and who doesn’t buy lotto tickets”
Corallo also said he would likely allow advertising from casinos, as long as the ads were marketing a show or event and not gambling.
“I recently approved a movie advertisement from Famous Players, and entertainment is entertainment. I don’t see the harm if someone wants to go see somebody perform,” he said.
Corallo says that he draws the line on advertising when it affects Ryerson’s image.
Ryerson generates $38,000 a year from campus advertising. This includes the ads on the stall doors in washrooms and the six large billboards scattered around campus.
Corallo says revenue generated goes toward paying off Ryerson’s debt and is also used to fund scholarships. He didn’t say how much money is given to each.
Carmen Messerlian of the Centre for Youth Gambling at McGill University isn’t so sure that advertising products like Pro-Line is such a good idea.
“I’m shocked at the lack of awareness among university staff about just how much of a problem youth gambling really is,” she says. “It’s been proven that lottery tickets are a gateway to other forms of gambling like scratch cards, bingo, Pro-Line, casinos and video lottery terminals.”
Messerlian says the university has a responsibility to take a hard look at the messages it’s sending to students.
“Studies show gambling is as risky as drugs or alcohol. I think it’s irresponsible for a university on one hand to promote learning and achievement and on the other tell people it’s okay to participate in such risky behaviour,” she said.
Messerlian has a truckload of statistics to prove her point. A recent study shows that 80 per cent of young people have tried some form of gambling, which she defines as any activity where a person risks something of value for a chance to win.
She says that of the youth who try gambling, 10 to 15 per cent are at a risk of developing “a pathological” condition.
When someone has become pathologically addicted to gambling, Messerlian says, they become so obsessed with the activity that they lose control of their life. This type of gambler, she says, lacks concern for the consequences of their actions and is at a much greater risk of suicide.
Youth at risk, she says, are those who gamble on a weekly basis. These people may display varying degrees of addictive behaviour and will often suffer from depression.
Messerlian says men between the ages of 16 and 25 face the highest risk of developing a serious gambling problem. The rate of problem gamblers among teens is two to four times higher than that of adults.
In fact, she says, the problem is so common that a recent study showed that in Canada and the United States, about 15 million people between the ages of 12 and 17 have gambled in the past year. Of these people, two million reported having a serious gambling problem.
Even though there are no studies showing a link between advertising and increased gambling, Messerlian says the influence is obvious.
“Targeting youth is a major marketing strategy. There looking for future customers. Ask young people –advertising gets noticed. It increases the social acceptability of any activity and influences the choices we make,” she says.
First-year business management student Vipin Khullar, plays Pro-Line every week and he couldn’t agree more.
“Of course advertising encourages young people to gamble,” he says. “I’d rather not have it on campus at all.”
Even though he just turned 18, the legal gambling age in Ontario, Khullar has been playing Pro-Line for more than a year.
Playing underage was never a problem says Khullar.
“I have never been asked to prove my age.”
The most money Khullar has won has been $60, but he says he has friends who have won a couple hundred dollars.
“I only wager my pocket change –usually $5 bucks. But if I get on a hot streak, I wager more money and play every day,” he says.
Khullar has lost far more money than he has won, but still considers himself a recreational gambler. However, he says he has a friend who is out of control and addicted to playing Pro-Line.
“My friend will spend his entire pay cheque,” he says.
Khullar says that playing Pro-Line definitely affects his moods and his concentrations, especially in school.
“When I win I’m happy, and when I lose I get frustrated. Sometimes I have a hard time focusing on school.”
Khullar says although his grades haven’t suffered as a result of his gambling, he often studies by his computer with the latest scores on the screen.
“When I have a lot of money down, ill refresh the screen every minute,” he says.
Khullar says he doesn’t see the difference between Pro-Line and casinos.
“I think Pro-Line is a training ground for other kinds of gambling. It’s the teenage way to gamble –it sets a trend.”
Diana Brecher, clinical coordinator of Ryerson’s counselling centre, says she only sees students with gambling problems occasionally. However, she expects the problem is big.
“My guess is people aren’t seeking treatment because they think they don’t have a problem. It’s their friends and family who see the problem”
Ryerson doesn’t have a program to treat gambling addiction; instead Brecher refers students to a city-wide program that typically treats older adults.