Gambling industry nearly self regulating
Nova Scotia once had a much tighter regulatory regime overseeing gambling in the province. Where there once was an independent authority that prepared thick reports and made recommendations to government, today jurisdiction is split and critics say there isn’t an effective regulatory regime.
The rules are laid out in the Gaming Control Act and several sets of regulations, all linked from this page on the Alcohol and Gaming Division website.
Five main bodies have a hand in gambling in Nova Scotia.
There’s the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, the Alcohol and Gaming Division, the Utility and Review Board and the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation.
ALC runs the VLTs on behalf of the gaming corporation, which oversees all gambling in Nova Scotia; the Alcohol and Gaming Division investigates and enforces regulations, and if there’s a disciplinary infraction it’s forwarded to the Utility and Review Board.
Not that that happens very often. In fact, there hasn’t been a VLT case before the board since 2001, according to Mora Stevens, the Alcohol, Gaming & Amusements Officer.
“Now, I know there were a number of incidents when they first started up, until the regulations were very clear, but … the Board doesn’t see how many warnings there have been, we only see it once the Alcohol and Gaming Division brings charges.”
By way of comparison, the board dealt with 669 liquor files, including seven disciplinary hearings, and had 13 requests for re-instatement by people who had asked to bar themselves from one of the province’s two casinos.
The Alcohol and Gaming Division investigates and enforces VLT regulations, but over the last couple years, their annual reports have failed to include the number of investigations, infractions and enforcements, information that had been provided in previous years. The last figure, from the 2006-2007 Alcohol and Gaming Division annual report, is 12,341 VLT inspections and one complaint and investigation.
Jeremy White, the director of Investigations and Enforcement at the division, says a staff of 27 inspectors conducts VLT inspections at the same time as liquor inspections at a frequency of either weekly or monthly.
When we told White that investigation numbers are missing from the annual reports, he said he wasn’t aware of this but would make a note for future reports.
“Right now, the only arms-length body we have is the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation,” said Bruce Dienes, a part-time psychology professor at Mount Saint Vincent University. “And they are purely advisory. They have no authority to limit or to restrict, all they do is research.”
The foundation was created in 1998. Celeste Gotell, executive director, says the intended purpose was to distribute funds for issues related to problem gambling.
“Our interest is ensuring that there is adequate research done to be able to provide them with the best possible information, support programs to address the consequences of gambling,” says Gotell.
The foundation is funded through gambling revenue, one per cent of commission revenues of VLTs equally matched by the NSGC. This is something Gotell hopes will change soon, as some community organizations have refused funding over “dirty money”.
“It’s probably time to look at the source of funding and see if it still continues to meet the needs.”
Kevin Harrigan, a research associate professor at the University of Waterloo, has published five academic papers about the design of slot machines. Harrigan thinks that government regulation is needed to curb against players becoming addicted and ruining their lives.
“I think the government regulation in all of Canada, even in all of North America at this stage, is not concerned with the addictiveness of the machines.”
“Government regulations are more concerned with the technical aspects of the machines so we know the machine runs perfectly.”