Citizens want inquiry on VLT addictions - Sunday 12th of June 2005

Families of video-lottery-terminal addicts are calling for a national inquiry into the social impacts of electronic gambling machines.

Keith Piercey, of Corner Brook, Nfld., watched his daughter's VLT addiction lead her to suicide two years ago when she overdosed on drugs.

Piercey and his wife, Kathy, are one of five families from Newfoundland, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia lending their stories to a Nova Scotia campaign to get rid of the machines.

The families told a news conference that provincial governments are addicted to VLT profits and should ban the machines.

They want Ottawa to study the social and economic impacts of VLT addiction on Canadians.

Danny Graham, co-chair of the group and a Nova Scotia politician, says the campaign's growth to a national level is a natural progression because stories of VLT addiction are coming from across Canada.

More than 150 people gathered in a Halifax church Sunday evening to remember people who have committed suicide because of their addiction to video lottery terminals.

The hour-long interfaith service was a prelude to a news conference at the provincial legislature scheduled for Monday, where family members were to talk about their experiences and call on the province to ban VLTs.

"Government-sponsored VLTs are devastating families, and we need to remember and bear witness to the worst scenarios," said Danny Graham, co-chair of, the group that organized the events.

"These family members are just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the number of people who have died by suicide as the result of VLT addictions."

Graham's group is demanding the Nova Scotia government ban VLTs, rather than simply reduce their numbers and hours of operation, which is the current plan under the province's gaming strategy.

Graham said the service was attended by families of VLT addicts who committed suicide from Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The service included addresses from members of various religious faiths, including Muslims, Buddhists and Christians, among others.

The addresses were followed by a candle-lighting ceremony, as the families led the church in bringing lit candles to the front of the room and placing them in sand.

Finally, the family members addressed the church.

Graham wouldn't say what exactly was said, because the family members wanted to wait until Monday's news conference to address the public.

He said the ceremony was important because it showed Nova Scotia's religious community was united in its position against VLTs.

"This is coming from all religions, and this is the first time there has been this level of unity in Nova Scotia's history at an interfaith level," said Graham.

Sunday was the first time the families had met each other face to face, after speaking over the telephone for the past month.

"It would appear to me that members of the family felt that it was a very emotional time,'' said Graham. ``It was their first act of doing something together."

John O'Donnell, a chaplain with the Interfaith Council of Halifax who led the ceremony, said families often seek spiritual guidance to help loved ones battle VLT addiction, but sometimes it is too late.

"Hopefully, they'll come before it's time for the funeral, but often times that is when the encounter is made," he said Sunday, before the ceremony.

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