VLTs blasted right and left

Province feasting on problem gamblers, think-tanks agree

By Amy Smith/ Provincial Reporter

Nova Scotia should make it tougher to gamble, says the head of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

Brian Lee Crowley says he’s not proposing gambling be outlawed, just made more difficult to indulge in.

“I’m pretty sure we’re not getting the difficulty the ease of access to VLTs has caused around the province,” Mr. Crowley, president of the right-of-centre think-tank, said in an interview Monday.

He said money derived from gambling, unlike normal taxation, comes from one group of residents.

And the province relies too heavily on that cash to pay for public services such as health and education, he said.

“If we really believe the services we’re paying for publicly are worthwhile, everybody should contribute,” he said.

Governments have to become more objective about gaming and its costs, he said.

“When you are getting as much money as they are from it, you can’t,” Mr. Crowley said.

The province expects to take in about $133 million from video lottery terminals by the end of the fiscal year. People considered problem gamblers account for about half the profit.

Ron Colman of the left-leaning research firm GPI Atlantic said if the province truly wants to look at responsible gaming, it should at least consider banning or limiting VLTs.

“How can it be arbitrarily off the table?” Mr. Colman said Monday.

He said one possibility would be to keep the machines away from areas where they could be used by patrons who have had too much to drink.

Mr. Colman said the high social costs of problem gambling – suicides, job losses, bankruptcies – often aren’t taken into account.

He said in order to keep the same amount of gambling revenue without problem gamblers, Nova Scotia would have to come up with around one million non-problem gamblers – more than the province’s population.

An October report released by GPI included figures from a 2000 survey that found 62 per cent of respondents thought VLTs should be banned.

A 2003 poll commissioned by this newspaper found 43 per cent of 400 Nova Scotia respondents supported a ban and 32 per cent wanted more restrictions.

Finance Minister Peter Christie said concern about problem gambling is one of the reasons the province has asked for input on its discussion paper New Directions in Gaming in Nova Scotia, expected to be released in a few weeks.

“We aren’t going to prejudge the consultation,” the minister said Monday. “At this point in time, the study is just being completed.”

Last week, Premier John Hamm said there will always be gambling in Nova Scotia, and the best way to deal with it is to regulate the industry.

Mr. Hamm said the revenue the province receives from gambling is important.

“We would rather have (gambling dollars) going to government and paying for health care, education, than going to the private sector and making a number of Nova Scotians millionaires off of the proceeds of gambling,” the premier said Thursday after cabinet.

Nova Scotia estimates it has about 15,000 adults who are problem gamblers, including 7,500 problem VLT players who lose an average of $1,200 a month to the machines.