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This article was published 21/4/2009 (4100 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Nearly 1,000 problem gamblers have asked to be banned from Winnipeg's two casinos but addictions experts say many often sneak in undetected and continue to bet.
And, a ban in Winnipeg doesn't apply at either of the two aboriginal-owned casinos, meaning an addict barred from Club Regent or McPhillips Street Station could make the short trip north to the South Beach Casino and continue gambling without incident.
However, a $3.5-billion class-action lawsuit working its way through the Ontario courts could trigger changes to Manitoba's program.
Hassan Fancy, one of the Ontario lawyers representing more than 10,000 gamblers, says the case centres on a conflict of interest that exists in every province -- including Manitoba -- with government-owned casinos.
Fancy has independent research that shows the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. reaps 33 per cent of its revenue from problem gamblers -- many of whom have lost their homes, jobs and families to chronic betting. Because of that revenue, the OLG has no incentive to genuinely bar addicts from their casinos.
"If the casinos and the government are getting such a large part of their revenue from these ill people, how can it be in their interest to exclude these ill people?" Fancy asked.
Manitoba Lotteries transferred $296 million to the provincial government in 2007-2008, which was then parcelled out to municipalities and used to fund government programs.
Created 20 years ago, Manitoba Lotteries has the oldest self-exclusion program in Canada, and 940 people are on the list. Manitoba Lotteries officials and addictions experts say it's one tool to aid problem gamblers.
New facial-recognition technology -- which many government-owned casinos elsewhere in Canada don't have yet -- is helping staff identify banned gamblers as they enter McPhillips Street Station or Club Regent.
Bev Mehmel, who is in charge of responsible gaming programs at Manitoba Lotteries, said security and surveillance staff nab about five people a week. There's been a spike in detections since the facial-recognition system was installed about a year ago.
Experts say the technology isn't perfect -- the photos of banned gamblers must be in excellent condition and software and surveillance systems must be meticulously designed. But facial recognition is significantly more effective than the 20 binders of photographs Ontario casino security staff must memorize.
In Manitoba, the list of banned gamblers in Winnipeg isn't shared with aboriginal-owned casinos in Brokenhead or The Pas. Those casinos don't share their lists with Winnipeg, though Manitoba Lotteries vice-president Susan Olynik said talks have begun on the issue.
Laura Goossen, of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, said people in their treatment programs have reported gambling at casinos even though they volunteered to be banned.
"If you are determined to get in, you can get in," she said.
It's a program in Manitoba and at nearly every casino in the country where addicted gamblers can voluntarily apply to be barred from a casino. You're on the list forever unless you apply to be removed.
What happens when you apply?
Casino staff, usually senior security staff or managers, take your photo and personal details. In Winnipeg, the picture is added to the casinos' new facial-recognition software. That software doesn't exist in the two native-owned casinos. Staff will also help you get hooked up with counselling and treatment programs offered by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.
What if I violate the ban?
Assuming security staff spot you, you could be charged with trespassing. You can't even enter the casino for a meal in the restaurant or to watch a show.
It would be nearly impossible to make that happen since there are more than 550 VLT lounges in the province. The Winnipeg casinos and the aboriginal-owned ones don't even swap names of banned patrons, let alone among VLT operators.
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