B.C. not place to be with gambling problem: report - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Bad news for gamblers in B.C. - while the province has one of the highest percentages of problem gamblers in Canada, the amount the government spends helping them is among the lowest.

A recent report by the Canada West Foundation on gambling in Canada found that while 6.9 per cent of B.C. gamblers were considered at-risk, the government spends $23 per person for treatment.

That figure compares to $91 the Quebec government spends, and $82 spent in Ontario.

However, B.C. Solicitor General John Les said the $4 million the provincial government has in the budget for treating people addicted to gambling is sufficient.

We have always said if more money is required, we will make that available," Les told Kamloops This Week. Anybody who needs help with their gaming addiction in British Columbia will get that help free of charge."

Kamloops-North Thompson (Liberal) MLA Kevin Krueger added that, in fact, there is a budget surplus because, the people just arent accessing them or wanting them, apparently.

There have not been sufficient applications for the money available to even use it up."

He added that since the Liberal government has come into power, it has doubled the amount allocated for addiction treatment, and if there was additional demand, the budget would likely increase.

The gambling report also found that since 2000, the number of slot machines in B.C. has increased by 161 per cent - an attention-grabbing number considering how strongly opposed the Liberal government had been to gaming expansion when the Grits were the provinceandapos;s Official Opposition to the NDP.

Krueger said that statistic can be misleading, because the previous NDP government was responsible for contracting the extra machines, against which Krueger had spoken out.

When you bring new venues and new technologies like slots, it tends to increase addiction problems, but they wouldnt listen to that and they made the decision to bring in slots," Krueger said.

To curb problems, Les said that expansion has been handled in a very measured way.

We do not allow any slot machines to be located in bars or pubs, we allow them only to be located in casinos," he said. From the research we have done, that has a significant effect in terms of reducing the number of people who become addicted to gaming."

Krueger said the Liberals have also reduced the number of bingo halls and casinos and have not allowed the introduction of video lottery terminals, which Krueger called the crack cocaine of gambling" because of their addictive nature.

However, there are some bonuses to gaming expansion - gambling revenues are at an all time high of more than $700 million per year, even with a 38.5 per cent profit margin.

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