Media coverage leads to claims of inappropriate action by operators
For the past two days, The Telegram has published stories noting unreported “cash in” numbers from the Atlantic Lottery Corp. (ALC), the wide availability of video lottery terminals (VLTs) and the stories of two people with concerns about inappropriate VLT use.
More stories are being told in response to the coverage.
— Telegram photo illustration
“True fact: I can check five separate locations containing five games each for VLT availability in six minutes. Usually all are full,” reads an email from a person who identified themselves as a problem gambler.
“I would really like to see this become a serious election issue. Whether that means total elimination of the VLTs (which seems impossible), VLTs limited to 19+ establishments (no restaurants) or if ALC is really hard up for the revenue, a casino out in the middle of nowhere — where you would have to make special arrangements to go play and not just drive two minutes up the road to get to a VLT.”
As reported, the ALC has been responsible for VLTs since the 1990s and has since instituted a variety of measures meant to help curb inappropriate gambling.
Paired with those measures, the provincial government took measures beginning in 2005 to limit and even reduce the number of VLTs active in the province, bringing that number to less than 2,000.
Yet, for many people, including Coun. Darren Finn with the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, the few customers playing big money continue to be the issue.
In 2005, Finn tried to get the town council to decree Grand Falls-Windsor a VLT-free zone.
“I don’t think that VLTs should be distributed across the province in the way that they are, because they can take so much money from so few people. And so I think fundamentally that’s wrong,” he said this week.
He acknowledged his proposal to go VLT-free reached beyond the bounds of the council’s jurisdiction. It died on the table at the time, with no support from the council as a whole.
“Now, there was people that objected to me doing it as well, speaking out on it, some of the local pub owners,” he said.
“It was a financial impact for them and I realize that. Some people are profiting, but there are people getting hurt by it, too.”
He suggested the creation of areas where machines are not allowed and suggested a casino might be a way to allow VLTs to continue to be used for entertainment, but restricting the access for anyone with an addiction.
In a story headlined “The choice to play,” published in print and online today, The Telegram stated “there are at least 20 VLTs at four separate locations” on one stretch on Topsail Road.
Readers have contacted the paper to point out more. The current count runs to at least 30 VLTs at six separate locations on the stretch of road from the Village Shopping Centre to Mount Pearl Square — an example that shows the machines are limited in number, but available at many sites.
The many locations, according to readers, makes them difficult to avoid and is a barrier to operator controls and oversight.
“I think it is clear that my biggest concern is that ALC puts these machines (anywhere) and everywhere, with no regard for what users have to go through, and it makes me physically ill when I read what (ALC spokesman Craig) Ennis has to say when he has not one clue what is going on in establishments they put these machines in,” stated one reader, Laura (not her real name), who identified herself as having a gambling addiction and playing in locations in St. John’s and Mount Pearl.
She and others have reported receiving encouragement for their VLT use from machine operators, in the form of wait lists for machines, signs to hold their machines while taking a break to use the bathroom or have a cigarette, and special favours as “high rollers,” with reports going as far as to include floats from the till.
The Telegram has seen a wait list and, in one case, a machine apparently freed up by a bartender, but has no evidence of the other practices reported. Those practices have, however, been reported independently by several individuals.
“There appears to be absolutely no monitoring of establishments once machines are installed. Something serious is going to come from this type of behaviour sooner or later. It will then be blamed on degenerate gamblers,” Laura said.
“Gambling will never stop. It’s just that simple. But what needs to stop is how it is mismanaged. Put the VLTs in casinos where they belong, not on every corner. All you need is to have a liquor licence apparently.”
Meanwhile, Credit Counselling Services Newfoundland and Labrador — 1-888-738-3328 — offers help, for no fee, to people who are having trouble paying their bills and covering their debts, including anyone who feels like they are in a desperate situation as a result of a gambling addiction.
Executive director Al Antle said people with bad debts that are due in part to a gambling addiction have been a regular part of his last 32 years of work.
“In any given year, 550 Newfoundlanders will ask us to help them pay their debts,” he said, in an interview this week.
There is no firm number on the cases that are tied to problem gambling. Antle said it is a factor in many cases.
He said his job is to offer options, and he and the councillors who work with him direct people to treatment when they see a struggle with a gaming addiction.
Help for a gaming addiction can be sought anonymously and can be made to fit each case. Provincial health authorities all offer help and the provincial, 24-hour Gambling Helpline is: 1-888-899-4357 (HELP).