Lead story 6/8
Making big bucks
Mike McIntyre, Chief Financial Officer at Membertou First Nations in Sydney, acknowledges a huge influx of non-native players to his reserve and says being able to stay open after midnight and allow smoking is an advantage.
As for problem gambling, “we’re surrounded by it,” he says.
“(But) If Membertou didn’t have VLTs, they’d go somewhere else,” he says. ““We’re aware of the problem and we’re doing everything we can.”
McIntyre says the band cooperates in responsible gaming programs, and with many regular, weekly customers, his staff get to know players on a first-person basis. He also argues that for members of his community, having them gamble at home makes it easier to spot if they have problems. And he says the alcohol free nature of Membertou’s operation is an advantage compared to VLTs in bars in non-First Nations communities.
Reserves aren’t the only places seeing increasing VLT revenues. Atlantic Lottery Corporation provided the King’s investigation with figures on revenues from any community with five or more businesses housing VLTs. The figures show that from 2007 to 2009 revenues jumped 14 per cent in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the region of Nova Scotia with the highest poverty rate.
This is significant because according to the 2007 prevalence study, those with lower household incomes have a significantly higher risk of developing gambling problems. The unemployed are also at high risk.
Not taking into account reserve VLTs, North Sydney and New Waterford revenues have each increased 26 per cent since 2007 and for Sydney there has been an increase of 22 per cent, the three biggest increases in Nova Scotia. According to its figures, Atlantic Lottery Corporation increased the number of VLTs in both North Sydney and New Waterford, the latter one of the hardest hit places, economically, in all of Nova Scotia. ALC declined to comment.
Dave Grant tends the bar at the New Waterford legion, where two VLTs attract a regular clientele at the back of the small lounge. He thinks there is a connection between the tough economy and the increases in VLT revenues.
“Once you had two mines, the (Sydney) steel plant, the heavy water plant…Your biggest employer now is probably the health care system, that and the school board,” he says. “There’s nothing else around here, so that’s what they do. They put all their money in the machines.”
Powerless to help
Grant says if someone drinks too much, he can cut them off, but it’s not the same with VLTs.
“You can come in here and have $2,000 on your paycheque and drop it all on the machine here and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Except provide information.
Sitting on top of the VLTs, pushed toward the back and seemingly gathering dust, are some pamphlets from the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation giving advice on how to set a budget for gambling, and explaining that the outcomes of VLT games are completely random, meaning there are no machines “about to pay out” and there are no “near misses” – both common myths among VLT players.
The pamphlets are part of the corporation’s “responsible gaming” initiative, run out of its nerve centre 420 kilometres from New Waterford in downtown Halifax’s Bank of Montreal building.
In the 8th floor boardroom, a collection of old-style casino tokens is nestled in a wooden case resting on a bookshelf, alongside books on problem gambling.
That juxtaposition of a symbol of gambling with literature on its effects neatly captures the contradictions of NSGC’s positions on gambling and VLTs. On the one hand, it sells a product known to be associated with high levels of problem gambling, but on the other, it runs the responsible gaming program, encouraging gamblers to set budgets and avoid overspending on VLTs. Three of NSGC’s 20 employees work in responsible gaming.
“We are far ahead of other, many other provincial jurisdictions but definitely in North America we are a leader and we are a leader worldwide in the responsible gambling programs that we offer,” says vice president of prevention programming and public affairs Robyn McIsaac during an interview in that 8th floor boardroom.