Gam­ing branch ex­pand­ing sup­port ser­vices for prob­lem gam­blers

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Randy SHORE

Al­most 2,400 peo­ple were re­ferred to coun­selling by the prov­ince’s cri­sis line for prob­lem gam­blers last year, but only half ac­tu­ally at­tended.

The cur­rent cri­sis line ser­vice provider, 211 Bri­tish Columbia Ser­vices So­ci­ety, fields 3,243 calls a year, about 62 per week, and re­ferred 2,373 peo­ple to a prob­lem gam­bling coun­sel­lor.

Ac­cord­ing to the Gam­ing Pol­icy and En­force­ment Branch’s an­nual re­port, 1,269 peo­ple re­ceived those ser­vices. Early in­ter­ven­tion ser­vices and clin­i­cal coun­selling were de­liv­ered to a to­tal of 1,612 peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, 77 per cent of coun­selling clients showed “sig­ni­cant im­prove­ment.”

The branch is about to over­haul its cri­sis ser­vices for prob­lem gam­blers to in­clude on­line chat sup­port and mo­bile phone text sup­port. Coun­selling is of­fered at no charge to any­one who calls for help.

En­hance­ments are to in­clude a per­sonal non-au­to­mated re­sponse to call­ers in less than 90 sec­onds with ser­vice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The branch also de­liv­ered 2,387 prob­lem gam­bling pre­ven­tion pre­sen­ta­tions to more than 86,000 peo­ple last year and or­ga­nized a pi­lot pro­gram for early in­ter­ven­tion coun­selling for at-risk gam­blers.

But the most po­tent weapon in their tool box is a vol­un­tary self-ex­clu­sion pro­gram in which peo­ple can regis­ter to be barred from casi­nos, bingo halls or B.C. Lot­tery Cor­po­ra­tion’s Playnow. com gam­ing web­site for as lit­tle as six months and up to three years.

Self-ex­cluded gam­blers were iden­ti­fied and re­moved from casi­nos more than 9,500 times last fis­cal year.

Peo­ple who self-ex­clude are es­corted from gam­ing fa­cil­i­ties if they are de­tected by se­cu­rity staff. About 10,000 peo­ple are reg­is­tered for ex­clu­sion, about 7,000 from fa­cil­i­ties and 3,000 from Playnow.com.

Ev­ery­one who reg­is­ters is of­fered free coun­selling.

BCLC is in­vest­ing in ID scan­ners and uses li­cence plate read­ers to help iden­tify peo­ple in the pro­gram. Look­out bul­letins are is­sued if a par­tic­i­pant tries re­peat­edly to en­ter casi­nos.

While some peo­ple reg­is­tered with the pro­gram have evaded se­cu­rity, they are in­el­i­gi­ble to col­lect jackpots if they win. None­the­less, prob­lem gam­blers can and do de­feat the sys­tem, some­times with ter­ri­ble con­se­quences.

Tyler Hatch claims to have lost $550,000 in dis­abil­ity pay­ments on on­line lot­tery games and at­tempted to sue B.C. lot­tery of­fi­cials for fail­ing to in­ter­vene and help him.

Hatch re­ceived a lump-sum pay­out of $550,000 in dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with a ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der and bipo­lar dis­or­der.

He soon gam­bled away the en­tirety of his lump-sum pay­ment and had in­curred ap­prox­i­mately $50,000 in con­sumer credit debt, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments. The law­suit was dropped a few weeks af­ter it was filed.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral David Eby told me­dia this week im­prove­ments to the pro­gram will be con­sid­ered as part of a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the Gam­ing Con­trol Act trig­gered by re­ports of wide­spread money laun­der­ing through B.C. casi­nos.

BCLC re­ported net in­come of $1.4 bil­lion from casi­nos and lot­ter­ies in the 2017-18 fis­cal year, based on record rev­enue of $3.3 bil­lion. That’s nearly $90 mil­lion more than ex­pected and the Crown cor­po­ra­tion achieved a “player sat­is­fac­tion” rate of 80 per cent in the process, ac­cord­ing to a third-party sur­vey.

Casino slot ma­chines and ta­ble games showed the strong­est growth. There were 18 casi­nos, 18 com­mu­nity gam­ing cen­tres and five com­mer­cial bingo halls host­ing BCLC games in op­er­a­tion last year.

The newly-ap­proved Cas­cade Casino Delta is ex­pected to open in 2020 on the site of the Delta Town and Coun­try Inn at the junc­tion of high­ways 99 and 17A.

Ad­di­tional casi­nos are in the early plan­ning stages for Greater Vic­to­ria and the North Shore in Metro Van­cou­ver, ac­cord­ing to BCLC.

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