Aboriginal gaming 3/6
Gambling before groceries
As do other band councils, Shubenacadie provides bi-weekly assistance cheques to adult band members who live on-reserve. These rations are provided to cover personal bills, grocery costs and other living expenses. The amount varies according to marital, family and employment status, as well as medical history, among other factors. Most single people get $185 every two weeks.
But rather than using that money to feed themselves or their families, some will use it to feed their gambling habits. They will cash their cheques at the local store doubling as a VLT parlour and start playing.
“Some people, they’ll go to the machines before they go grocery shopping,” Gehue says.
Next thing they know, the money is gone. Michael Paul, who also lives in Indian Brook and is a former VLT addict, understands this situation. “You might just decide on ration day that you’re going to go over to the gaming (room) first and see if you can win a few extra dollars. But 90 per cent of the time, it doesn’t work out that way.”
Another community member, who asked not be named in this story, has experienced this firsthand. “I’m a gambler. And I’m addicted too. I’m not gambling now because I got no money. But if I had my pay tomorrow, I’ll be itchin’. I’ll be tryin’. Oh, I should just try 20 is how it starts. Next thing you know, my cheque is gone.”
McDonald has seen this drain firsthand.
“I know a guy, he gets $185 and he’s walking around skin and bones. He don’t do drugs or nothin’. And he has to go to different houses to get a meal. He’s lucky to have one meal a day. Because of his gambling addiction. And then he does odd jobs. He’ll paint a house, paint a door step or something. And then he’ll take that (money), buy himself a sub and sit at the machine eating his sub and drinking his pop. I know a few people like that. I have family members like that.”
“What person’s gonna sit there and say, ‘I need help?’”
Michael Paul battled his VLT addiction almost 10 years ago. Now, he wants nothing to do with the machines. The single parent has two teenaged boys, and wants VLTs taken off his reserve and away from his family and friends.
“As far as VLT machines in any First Nation, it hurts any First Nation. It really does,” Paul says. “I got to a point where I was blowing my paycheques on it, gettin’ nowhere. ‘Oh, next payday I’ll pay that bill. Oh, next payday I’ll pay that. Oh, I’ll hit this time.’ And go down and drop your money and chase that dream. It took a long time to get away from those machines,” he remembers. “I quit smoking. It seems every time I sat at a machine, that’s all I had to do was smoke. …But it’s an addiction. It’s like anything else,” Paul says. “You need help. But what person’s gonna sit there and say, ‘I need help?’”
Other members of the Indian Brook community agree VLTs are just one more vice needlessly harming their people. They say there are also high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse.
But other community members – though they agree VLTs should be taken off the reserve – insist the money at least helps the community. “There’s a good side, which the revenues do support the band and its members and create jobs. And then there’s the bad side of it, which is addictions. I, myself, have always been against the gaming machines,” says McDonald.
Rev. Tom Kuru, the priest of St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church in Indian Brook, has a similar view.
“We have had needs for building houses and towards the school and towards recreation, towards social assistance in the community. It really did help.”
That says, Kuru does not believe the band should be dependent on VLT revenue for economic development.
“We want community development. I would prefer the community look for its own resources and skills.”