August 12, 2020

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Cash trumps responsible gaming

Province OKs ATMs for casino

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/4/2009 (4130 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last week, while most of the province watched the Red River flex its muddy muscles, the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation issued a news release that under normal circumstances would have gotten more attention.

The release announced that automated teller machines (ATMs) were finally going to be installed in the McPhillips Street Station casino.

It may not seem like much of an announcement, but this is an issue with a fascinating history.

Up until last week, neither provincial casinos in Winnipeg had ATMs on site, although cash machines are located in hotels beside each facility.

Five years ago, when Lotteries suggested ATMs should be located closer to the actual gambling, a controversy erupted. Academics, addiction experts and opposition MLAs argued that making problem gamblers walk a short distance to replenish their cash allowed them a chance to reconsider. Easier access to cash machines would only make it easier for addicts to feed their habits.

That argument held sway right up until last week, when Lotteries and the province reversed course.

Their argument has remained the same. Lotteries says patrons who had to leave McPhillips Street Station to walk to the hotel were being hassled by panhandlers. Some have been robbed or assaulted. Lotteries also noted that every other casino in Canada, including two First Nation casinos in Manitoba, have ATMs on site.

As for the argument that the short walk to the hotel machines helped problem gamblers clear their heads, Lotteries said enough is being done through responsible gaming education to help those people help themselves.

At first blush, the on-site ATM issue seems like a non-issue. But in this case, the real story is not the installation of ATMs at a government-owned casino. The issue here is the province's decision to put convenience ahead of responsible gaming.

This is not a significant expansion of gambling services. However, some critics such as Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen believe it sends the wrong signal. "It's one more incremental step in the wrong direction."

Lotteries and its political masters have always justified enhancements or expansion of gaming by pointing to the extensive programs aimed at combatting problem gambling. There are TV advertisements and billboards. The province funds counselling and there are kiosks in each of the two casinos with information about responsible gambling. There are also specially trained staff in each facility to spot the red flags of gambling addiction.

Unfortunately, these efforts are mostly a farce. Staff isn't allowed to eject a problem gambler, no matter how many red flags they raise. While you can be barred from a casino for taking a swing at someone, you cannot be barred for being an addict. That's because gambling is only profitable for the house if you go beyond what you can afford to lose.

Social marketing rarely works because few people are willing to admit they have a problem. The weakness of the province's methodology is obvious: Manitoba boasts among the highest rates of problem gambling in Canada.

The reason the province flip-flopped is also obvious: Lotteries generates nearly $300 million a year -- money that goes into general revenues to support worthy government initiatives.

That kind of money persuaded the former Tory government of premier Gary Filmon to massively expand Manitoba's supply of video lottery terminals, despite the fact they are the most insidious, most addictive form of gambling.

The NDP opposition in the 1990s took pleasure in lambasting Filmon for using gambling to boost revenues.

For now, we have the worst of all worlds. We have two provincial casinos, two First Nation casinos, an extensive inventory of VLTs and a Crown gaming concern that is dedicated to offering patrons easier access to cash, all in a province that boasts among the highest rates of problem gaming. Now that sounds like a winning hand.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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