N.S. plan fails to curb addictions
An investigation by King’s journalism students has found that despite a five-year gaming strategy that expires this year, people are still being driven to addiction and financial ruin by VLTs. Players in bars, legions, clubs and on native reserves in Nova Scotia feed close to a billion dollars a year into the coin slots and bill accepters of the gambling machines. About $750 million of that comes back in prizes, but players lose about $200 million, based on 2009 figures. An astounding half the losses come from people with gambling problems, according to Nova Scotia government research, suggesting about $100 million was lost by troubled gamblers that year alone. Taken over the decade and a half since VLTS were introduced, problem gamblers have lost in the range of $1.1 billion to the machines.
By King’s Investigative Workshop
It’s April 6, 2005.
Premier John Hamm strides into the Radisson Suite Hotel in downtown Halifax, joined by the president of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation Marie Mullaly.
They’re here to a do a little firefighting.
Hamm has faced withering opposition and public outrage over the explosive growth of revenues from video lottery terminals – electronic gambling machines in bars, clubs, legions and First Nations reserves throughout Nova Scotia. High profile stories of people with debilitating VLT addictions have fuelled the firestorm. The Liberal opposition is pushing for a complete ban, threatening to topple the minority Tory government.
“It is clear that the status quo is not working,” the premier tells the assembled reporters as he unveils his government’s new, five-year gaming strategy.
“There is a need for decisive, material change in gambling in Nova Scotia.”
Setting an ideal objective of “zero” addicted gamblers, the premier unveils a series of measures that are supposed to reign in the destructive impact of VLTs. The government will yank out 1,000 of the machines from bars, turn off the remaining ones in bars, clubs and legions at midnight, slow down the rate of play and remove a deceptive “stop” button that gives players an illusion they can control what happens.
Twelve days after the news conference, opposition leader Darrell Dexter, introduces a bill in the legislative assembly, requiring a binding referendum on banning VLTs. It is never debated.