Readers, town councillor suggest a casino for VLTs

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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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).

Organizations: VLT, Town of Grand Falls-Windsor

Geographic location: Topsail Road

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Recent comments

  • Steve
    March 27, 2014 - 11:54

    I realize what your saying Burt, but once again, that's up to them to get help OR like I said have a membership offered so these people cant play the machines.. Its an unfortunate situation and im sure it affects a lot of families but its no difference then being an alcoholic, so do we stop bars from serving alcohol?

  • Taxpayer
    March 27, 2014 - 09:48

    There is a lot of space on bell island for a casino. Relocate what is over there and just have a casino over there. Actually while you are at it, build a new penitentiary over there too. The province will benefit from both. As a taxpayer, I'm tired of having to pay for rehabilitation for criminals and other winners who think that they can hit it big playing Texas Tea and Keno.

  • Jesse
    March 27, 2014 - 08:32

    Why do family oriented establishments, like bowling alleys, restaurants and pizza takeouts need VLTs?

    • CheerBear
      March 27, 2014 - 08:44

      Because money?

    • Jesse
      March 27, 2014 - 10:22

      Obviously, however the point was more towards accessibility.

  • J
    March 27, 2014 - 07:51

    The Government should put in a casino much like is done in Alberta where the proceeds (or portion thereof) are directed back into government coffers. Keep you moral arguments to yourself. Responsible people should be able to partake of legal activities they enjoy.

  • Gekko
    March 27, 2014 - 07:24

    Adults should be able to gamble however, whenever, wherever, and how much they want. And businesspeople should be able to provide that service without dealing with any nanny state nonsense from the government. Fine, build a casino, but leave those VLT's right where they are. In fact, if the demand is there we should have more VLT's, not less, and no politicians sticking their snouts around whenever a legitimate business owner wants to put them in his establishment.

  • Steve
    March 27, 2014 - 06:15

    Piss off with your casino! If you want one then move to Vegas--and take those BS VLTs with you. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

    • Brad
      March 27, 2014 - 08:10

      Why don't the minority like you go away and live in your own colony so we don't have to listen to you.

    • Steve
      March 27, 2014 - 08:41

      If I want to gamble I should have the right to gamble, its unfortunate that there are people who are in a financial burden and choose to blow their cheques on the VLT's but its not my problem, I can be responsible when I am playing them, why cant they? If they're going to kick up this big of a stink, apply a members card. No Card, No play. Cant have a few bad apples ruin the batch, a casino would also be a great idea, once again make it mandatory to have a membership to gain access so people who are on social assistance are not permitted to enter. I enjoy going out on a Friday night sitting down for a few hours having a beer and a flick. Why should I suffer cause you want to blow your paycheque?

    • Bert
      March 27, 2014 - 09:32

      I agree 100% with you. The lame arguments some people like Steve are making, " if you have a problem that's your problem and if it don't affect me than basically shut up," are lame. Little children and spouses who are mentally and physically abused because their father or mother is frustrated because they can't kick the VLT habit are suffering , yet that's not my problem so get out of my face! Very sad when that is all the compassion some people have for their fellow man!