Complaints about tougher VLT regulations ring hollow

Lana Payne
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Would you like some cheese with that whine?

Hospitality Newfoundland and Labradors complaints last week about the governments efforts to promote responsible gambling through new VLT regulations were uttered with such conviction and outrage youd think they were in some way justified.

The organization, along with its friends at the bar and restaurant association, isnt too happy with the new rules, or the short notice. Ultimately, though, their real problem is the new regulations will cut into gambling profits. Somehow this little tidbit is supposed to make us want to pull out the Kleenex.

If theres one thing the Liberal governments of the 1990s should be tarred with and ashamed of, its the introduction and proliferation of VLTs, or what some refer to as the crack cocaine of gambling.

Video lottery terminals have been a part of the bar scene in the province since 1991.

According to a 2006 report commissioned by the Canadian Gaming Association, the number of VLTs in Newfoundland and Labrador has increased from about 900 in 1992 to almost 2,700 in 2005. The number of VLT sites nearly doubled in that period, from 265 to 593.

As the number of VLTs increased, so did government gambling revenues and business profits.

In the fiscal year 2005-06, the Atlantic Lottery Corp., according to its annual report, paid out $28 million to bars in the province with VLTs.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians pumped $122 million into the machines. We spent another $186 million on lottery tickets, for a total of more than $308 million. This generated a tidy $105 million in government revenues.

Problem gambers

The government estimates that 1.2 per cent of the population are problem gamblers thats about 6,060 people. But its probably more, since most addictions are hidden, shameful secrets until its too late.

In any case, this percentage

doesnt take into account what anti-VLT advocates call the tens of thousands of secondary victims families and friends. Added to those victims are the numerous businesses that have been ripped off by addicted-gambler employees.

With that kind of cash on the table, its clear that the problem gamblers are not the only ones with an addiction. Government and VLT businesses have profited, too. One might say they also have a dependency.

The PC government had announced a plan to reduce the number of VLTs by 15 per cent over a five-year period, or back to pre-1997 levels.

Those who advocate a ban on VLTs say it is not all gambling they want to see barred. But because VLTs are so addictive, so insidious and the consequences so devastating for individuals and families, they say regulating them, reducing them, is just not enough.

There are those who argue that people have free will, a choice to use the machines or not. But that choice is rendered useless when compulsion takes over.

And there is a difference between VLTs and other types of gambling. Virtually no other form of gambling is as accessible, as addictive, as risky. Up until today, with the new hours of operation, VLT gambling was virtually a 24-hour-a-day activity.

Some of the changes announced by Finance Minister Tom Marshall last week include reducing the number of VLTs and limiting the hours of operation from noon to midnight.

More must be done. Instead of a plan to reduce VLTs, the government ought to be drafting one to eliminate them, but first the government must wean the addicts and I dont mean gamblers, but rather those businesses that have become, for whatever reason, dependent on the profits from VLTs. Many bar owners spoke out against VLTs in the early days, and some to this day have resisted the temptation to install them.

Video lottery terminals are not economic development and should never have been confused with and promoted as such in the first place.

Too many lives have been ruined by VLTs damaged because of an act by a desperate government for quick cash. Today, we are left to pick up the pieces from this poorly thought-out decision.

The current government is being lobbied from both sides of the issue.

Determined father

But it seems one fathers determination has had more of an impact than the threat of job losses and reduced profits from the business lobby.

Last week, The Telegram reported Keith Pierceys reaction to the new gambling rules.

Pierceys 31-year-old daughter, Susan, addicted to VLTs, took her own life in 2003. The Corner Brook man is hopeful the changes will make a difference.

At least this government appears to have a plan. It doesnt go nearly far enough, but its a tiny start.

And as for the regulation whiners, do you hear that? Its the smallest violin in the world playing just for you.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement.

Her column returns April 15.

Organizations: VLT, Canadian Gaming Association, Atlantic Lottery The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Corner Brook

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Recent comments

  • robbie
    August 23, 2010 - 21:42

    I cant believe that only 1.2% have gambling problems.I know almost all gamblers in my town,and bar owners,and i see more like 60% have a problem.Not only that i went around with a friend,and personally asked each one how they felt about removing them from our bars.The results were about 90% in favor of removing them.These were all players playing at the time,and about 80% of players that were broke until they got paid wanted them gone.So the real facts are that most people,besides the government and none players are in favor of there removal.All these mini casinos all over our towns is not rite.Those vlts were brought here,and played by people who had no idea of there ability to addict,or damage them,and there families.The software,and software providers are one of a kind,and the only one that is governed by replacing chips to maximize profits.They are the most unfair video slots in the world.All others can be played for free,but not vlts.All others are regulated under the "fair gaming commission" All other games offer bonuses,and a percentage of cashback,if you lose.VLT`S are a government controlled,always lose,homebreaker ripp off bottom line.The government know it,and the addicted players know it. Yet they still have them here.They are killing people,and causing kids to go hungry,and people way too much money stress.They need to go,and soon.