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Friday, March 25, 2011

NS cabinet minister grilled over mandatory VLT cards

Critics pan new provincial gambling strategy

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2011 at 6:59 PM

Dave Wilson defends gambling strategy
  • Dave Wilson defends gambling strategy

Provincial cabinet minister Dave Wilson endured a 25-minute grilling today from members of the provincial press gallery after he outlined the NDP government’s new “Responsible Gaming Strategy.” The questioning began after Wilson assured reporters the plan would reduce the harmful effects of VLT gambling partly by continuing the freeze on new machines and partly by slowly phasing out a small number of existing ones. The province is also planning to make it impossible to operate the machines next year without a mandatory “My-Play” card which allows players to monitor their gambling and set their own VLT spending and time limits.

“When a business licensed to have VLTs closes or decides to give up its machines, those VLTs will be taken off the market,” Wilson said. “This will be a very slow process over a long period of time, but it’s a step in the right direction and it fits with our overall commitment to social responsibility.”

He added that the new strategy strikes a balance. On the one hand, the province needs the $145 million in annual gambling revenues ($99.5 million from VLTs) to help pay for such things as health care, education and road paving. On the other hand, the strategy is intended to reduce the harm that VLTs pose to problem gamblers.

The Minister acknowledged that the new policy would likely reduce VLT numbers each year by only about 24 machines out of the 2,200 VLTs that now operate in the province. But reporters were most skeptical about the use of “My-Play” cards which will cost $4 million to $5 million a year over the next five. Wilson acknowledged that problem gamblers could set high gambling limits and sign up for several cards, but insisted that research suggests the cards have the potential to help them control their spending.

However, two critics who attended Wilson's news conference disagreed that the cards will curb problem gambling. John McMullan, a sociology professor at Saint Mary's who is an expert on gambling, said the "My-Play" system is flawed.

“You should have a single-card system and that single-card system should be used to monitor and also to collect data,” McMullan told reporters. He added that in countries such as Holland and Switzerland, cards are used to identify problem gamblers, help them deal with their problems and in some cases, ban them from using the machines.

“The question is how interventionist do you want to be and to what degree are you going to allow the policy to be determined by the private sector,” McMullan said. “I can assure you that those who are providing these machines are the ones who very likely don’t want to see the cards on them at all.”

Terry Fulmer, who operates a website dedicated to ridding Nova Scotia of VLTs, accused the government of adopting a business-as-usual attitude.

“When you ignore VLTs and their harm, then the gaming strategy is just window dressing,” he said. “I look at $4 million for a stupid plastic card. What could that do for treatment if they smartened up and [spent that money] in the places that they should rather than this PR spin, spin, spin?”

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