Friday, July 30, 2010

You lose, they keep the money; you win, they keep the money

I can see why Mike Lee is unhappy.
Back in 2007, the Vancouver Island man knew he had a gambling problem. He was losing too much money and couldn't stop.
So he signed up for B.C. Lotteries' voluntary self-exclusion program. That's supposed to bar you from bingo halls and casinos and online betting. Staff will be on the alert to keep you out, the corporation says, and you can be fined up to $5,000 for breaking the agreement.
And, the current rules say, you can't keep your winnings if you go back into a casino and beat the odds.
But Lee says he was able to keep on gambling, winning sometimes but mostly losing. B.C. Lotteries didn't keep up its end of the bargain when it came to preventing him from gambling.
Until January, when he won $42,500 in a VLT at Duncan's mini-casino.
Sorry, the casino said. You're on the self-exclusion list and you don't get the money. It will subsidize B.C. Lotteries' harm-reduction programs.
Lee's lawyer is fighting the decision. Partly, it's a technical question of whether Lee ever agreed to forfeit any winnings.
But on a more basic level, the issue is fairness.
Despite all the talk about helping gamblers save themselves, B.C. Lotteries didn't enforce Lee's exclusion when he was losing money and increasing its profits. Only when he won did the Crown corporation and its agents leap into action.
You could write this off as an aberration, a one-off.
Except the self-exclusion program has been around for 11 years. And so far, not one fine has been levied against a gambler for sneaking into casinos.
Another gambler is suing over the self-exclusion program. Joyce May Ross. She too registered to be barred from betting in 2007. Since then, she has lost $331,000. There was no serious effort to stop her from gambling, she alleges. Casino staff knew she was a participant in the self-exclusion program, but didn't stop her from gambling, she claims.
It does suggest a double standard. The program isn't great at catching gamblers, until they win.
The notion of giving protecting addicted people from their illness is appealing. (This has to be an illness. Imagine someone who can think of no way to stop gambling and losing except by making a public declaration and being barred.)
But the reality, in B.C., is flimsy.
Casino employees are supposed to memorize 6,600 pictures of British Columbians who have asked to be kept out of casinos and then confront them. They're filed in big binders. (Ontario is considering cameras and facial recognition technology to help. It is facing a proposed $3.5-billion class action lawsuit on behalf of addicted gamblers who claim they asked to be barred, but were allowed to keep losing.)
And they do. B.C. gambling establishments turned away people on the list about 8,200 times last year, according to a Vancouver Province review of the issue. They kept 102 people on the exclusion list from claiming a jackpot.
But is that good? When people put themselves on the list, they are acknowledging they no longer can control their gambling addictions. They need someone to stand at the door of the bingo hall or casino and say you can't come in.
If there are 6,600 of them, and they each test the safeguards every couple of weeks, then the program is catching about five per cent of people who have asked to be barred.
Rich Coleman, responsible for increasing gambling, reducing harm and limiting gambling-related crime, acknowledges the program has problems. But the addicted gamblers have to take responsibility too, he says.
Except that's why it's called an addiction - they can't stop. And that's why they sign up for the self-exclusion program.
It's depressing. The government knows that for every 1,000 new gamblers, some 40 will have problems. Their lives will be worse - often a lot worse.
But it still is setting out to recruit about 240,000 new gamblers per year.
Footnote: Meanwhile, the government's online gambling site remains closed until further notice after the botched launch, privacy violations and less-than-honest communication. The shutdown is costing the B.C.Lottery Corp. about $800,000 a week. But it's saving gamblers money.


Anonymous said...

This is great news.

If (when?) I get a speeding ticket in the future I can tell the judge: "Your Honour, I speed all the time and I never get ticketed. Because the police knowingly let me speed before, they cannot now enforce the law by giving me a speeding ticket."


Totally 'off topic', but I thought it interesting given that family law in BC is being updated after too many years. A Man's Right to Choose?

Brenton said...

Do you mean that BCLC's online casino being down means they aren't seeing $800,000 per week in profits? That's quite different than costing them $800,000 per week.

paul said...

My best guess is $800,000 a week in profits. There is no revenue - and the corporation forecast more than $1 million a week. But there's no obvious cost savings - you can't get out of contracts or lay people off quickly - and end expenses were projected at about $800,000 a week.

DPL said...

I used to think a gambler was someone who bought lottery tickets, played bingo or now and again threw a few bucks into a slot machine. Seems not to be the case. Big money being lost and a government quite willing to take it from the unfortunates who can't stop blowing their cash on dreams.I was up in Thule Greenland at an American airbase. The base owned the machines and the customer often won. After about ten minutes I started to wonder why I was wasting my time so never went back to a slot again. I guess most of us are like that, but for the unfortunates that are not, there should be some method of keeping them away from such destructive habits. Clearly the present government simply doesn't give a damn for those addicted folks.

Anonymous said...

"Staff will be on the alert to keep you out, the corporation says, and you can be fined up to $5,000 for breaking the agreement."

The BCLC can keep your losses, keep your winnings, and fine you to boot. Those are pretty good odds.

And Coleman justifies the exponential expansion of internet gambling in BC because some of the other sites out there might be crooked. Too funny.

Raymond Graham

My name is Khan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mohammad saiful said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.