B.C. shouldn't keep gambling addict winnings: doctor
Published Friday, June 11, 2010 6:17PM PDT
An addiction doctor says the piece of B.C.'s help for problem gamblers that denies them their winnings sounds good to rational people -- but is just a cruel joke on the truly addicted.
That's because true gambling addicts are addicted to much more than the hope of winning, Dr. Jennifer Melamed told CTV News. And so taking their wagers -- as well as their winnings -- only compounds their hurt, she said.
"A gambling addict is not only excited about the thrill of winning," said Dr. Jennifer Melamed, who sees patients suffering from many kinds of addictions, including gambling addictions.
"It takes over their control, their thought processes," she said. "It's the only thought that invades them from the minute they wake up in the morning to when they go to sleep at night."
Problem gambler Owen -- not his real name -- found that being told his winnings couldn't be claimed didn't make a difference as a deterrent.
Owen told CTV News that he was so addicted that once he entered the casino, he played anyway he didn't care they would take his money.
"That's where it was the sad part," he said. "I knew that if I did win, they would ID me, and they would take my winnings. So I started to play to lose."
B.C.'s protections for problem gamblers include free counselling, a problem gambling help line, and an intensive week-long treatment program.
"We do everything we can," said Paul Smith of the B.C. Lottery Corporation. "But there's a second part of the equation -- the individual has to take responsibility."
Gamblers can also sign up for the self-exclusion program, which is meant to help them stay away from casinos. Anyone on that list isn't supposed to be able to win money.
Some 6500 people are currently on that list; there are more than 150,000 problem gamblers in the province, and some 31,000 of those are estimated to be severe problem gamblers.
CTV News discovered that the self-exclusion program didn't make a difference to a listed problem gambler with a hidden camera -- he met zero resistance as he walked right into four casinos in the Lower Mainland.
He was given his winnings, but many problem gamblers told CTV News they are denied for amounts from $1,000 to $10,000 and higher. The program is now subject to a review by BCLC and the Ministry of Housing, which is responsible for gaming.
In an e-mail, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, which is responsible for gaming, said that they based their policy on a Responsible Gambling Council of Ontario report, which included a recommendation that jackpot winners not be given their winnings.
Owen contacted CTV News to get his story out in the hopes it would help other problem gamblers.
Owen has a high-profile job in B.C.'s interior that could be hurt if his addiction is made public, so CTV News agreed to protect his identity.
Owen said at the slots his problems would melt away -- but so would his money. After losing $40,000, he decided to get help.
"If it continued down that path I would have lost everything," he said.
Owen signed up for the self-exclusion program, which is supposed to help him stay out of casinos. He says it didn't work.
"During the time I was signed up, I went on to four different casinos in four different cities in B.C. I was never once asked anything," he said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward and Mi-Jung Lee