Michael Stopay was in his early teens when he started gambling. It was part of his childhood, watching his father gamble and his brother playing table soccer at a local pizza joint for money. Then in the late 1990s, Proline became popular and Michael was addicted.
“It started out as fun picking NFL winners for Sunday football, but by my late 20s, I was gambling everywhere; from casinos to on the streets with bookies,” says Michael. “I was losing money and it was impacting my relationships, self-esteem, physical and mental health.” Michael says when you gamble, winning leaves you feeling really good. But the lows when you lose are disastrous.
For years, Michael hid his gambling habit from his wife and family until it all came crashing down. “I was on a win streak with hundreds of thousands of dollars in my car and I couldn’t stop and just pay my debts. Something about the addiction kept me going. I was never satisfied and always needed more,” he says. “Then I lost it all on a Sunday football game. I felt so much shame and guilt in telling my wife and my family. I now realize how much quality time I lost with my wife because I was always thinking about my next bet.”
That’s when Michael knew he needed help. He started going to COSTI to talk about his worries and one of the counsellors suggested he call Gamblers Anonymous. “I found the courage and started going to their meetings. At first, I felt completely out of place, but I kept going and felt this was my medicine. The meetings helped me understand the disease, connect with others like me, and learn my triggers.” And while Michael says he will never be 100% cured, he has come a long way in keeping his gambling in check.
COSTI’s Gambling, Gaming and Technology Use services were born out of a 1988 report by Toronto District Health Council recommending that public education materials on gambling and problem gambling be available in different languages, involving ethnocultural communities in developing these services.
Today, COSTI’s Gambling, Gaming and Technology Use services provide culturally and linguistically appropriate counselling for individuals experiencing gambling problems and their family members. Services are available to individuals of Italian, Hispanic and Portuguese background. COSTI also collaborates with a number of ethno-specific agencies to deliver awareness activities regarding gambling and problem gambling for the Hindi, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Sinhalese, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil and Vietnamese speaking communities.
Most recently, in collaboration with the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC), COSTI produced a new resource kit for use with recent newcomers to Canada. New Beginnings: Problem Gambling Awareness Kit for Newcomers in Ethnocultural Communities provides information on problem gambling and offers suggestions on prevention.