Addicted to gambling? Step inside the casino - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission took a gamble yesterday in a bid to quell the number of problem gamblers by giving them access to counsellors steps away from slot machines.

The counsellors will work at information kiosks designed to help problem gamblers and dispel gambling myths. The kiosks will be placed on the floors of Casino Windsor and Fallsview Casino Resort by the fall.

"[The centres are] not just for show. They need to be effective," said Alan Berdowski, chief marketing officer with the commission. "One problem gambler in our premises is one too many."

The centres are part of a larger new code of conduct for the commission to curb problem gambling. Along with the information centres, the commission will be working on expanding its advertising campaign that dispels gambling myths with slogans such as, "Someone told her that pulling the arm would help her win more. . . . Actually they were pulling her leg."

The Canada Safety Council said addictive gambling is a public-health crisis that accounts for up to 360 suicides a year. A recent report showed Ontario earns 35 per cent of its $4-billion in annual gaming revenues from problem gamblers.

According to the Responsible Gambling Council, about 1 per cent of people who place bets have a gambling problem.

Each year, 2 per cent of gross revenue from slot machines is given to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Last year, the commission gave about $36-million to those programs.

Jon Kelly, chief executive of the Responsible Gambling Council, said the campaign would be most effective if it focused on prevention.

He said the advertising campaign is a good idea, not only to target problem gamblers, but also all people who want to put their money on the table.

Mr. Kelly said information centres, similar to the ones his organization puts up in casinos and on university campuses, work when there's more talking, less counselling. "The people who run these things should be out there a lot. This should not be considered a treatment centre in the casino."

Ted Arnott, the Conservatives' tourism and recreation critic, called the commission's announcement a public relations exercise.

"The corporation needs those problem gamblers to generate the revenue that the government is insisting it turn over to the government," Mr. Arnott said.

G. Ron Frisch, chairman of the board for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, said the move is not a public relations ploy, it is something that must be done.

Mr. Berdowski denied that public pressure had pushed the commission to action now, adding that the majority of Ontarians don't just tolerate gambling, but enjoy it and see it as entertainment.

NDP House Leader Peter Kormos said he didn't find gambling entertaining. "Anne Murray is entertainment. SpongeBob [SquarePants] is entertainment," he said. "[Gambling] isn't entertainment."

Mr. Kormos said a step in the right direction would be to get rid of automated telling machines on the casino floors and prevent casinos from offering perks such as limousine rides to big gamblers.

On the same day as the announcement was made, anyone visiting Premier Dalton McGuinty's campaign website -- choosechange.ca -- would have been taken to a casino web page. Hackers changed the link on the page to an on-line casino where visitors could play European roulette, poker and slots.

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