BCLC to gambling addicts: You don't have a problem
If programs meant to help problem gamblers fail, it's the gamblers' fault, according to recent court filings from the BC Lottery Corporation.
The statements of defence claim BCLC and its casinos owe no duty of care to the problem gamblers who have lost their life savings at the slot machines, and suggests they have full control over their addictions.
"If the plaintiff suffered damage or loss as alleged, or at all, as a result of a breach of duty by BCLC, which is denied, then such loss or damage was contributed to by the plaintiff's own failure to take reasonable care of herself and her own interests," lawyers for the crown corporation wrote in the documents.
The statement is included in five nearly identical notices of defence filed in response to five lawsuits from people who say BCLC failed to fulfill their duty of care to the people who signed up for the self-exclusion program.
If a gambler signs up for the self-exclusion program, they are not allowed to be in the casinos and if they gamble, they cannot win.
But, as a CTV News investigation found last year, problem gamblers often get in and lose huge sums of money, while the province and private casinos profit.
The crown corporation's position is outraging advocates for the mentally ill.
"It says to me that they don't understand the disease of addiction, and, as I've said before, this whole process is a sham," said addiction doctor Dr. Jenny Melamed.
Melamed said her patients are distinct from regular gamblers, who may lose large sums because they make bad choices and take large risks. A gambling addict is someone who loses control and simply cannot stop, she added.
Dr. Melamed said measures that would work for rational people, such as the BCLC advice "Know your limit, play within it," simply don't apply to the mentally ill.
"There's no such thing for an addiction patient," she said. "It's a joke. Imagine saying [to an alcoholic] ‘Know your limit for alcohol and drink within it.' We have patients who drink liquid hand sanitizer because they know their limits? I don't think so."
The claim was also hard to accept for one plaintiff, Joy Ross. She said she knew she had a problem and signed up for the self-exclusion program, but then claimed she was allowed in again to lose $300,000.
"How could it not be sick to gamble away every penny you have, and borrow more, and gamble that away too?" Ross told CTV News. "How can it be sane to know that you're going to lose, go in anyway and spend $5,000 in 24 hours and still want to go back? What could be sane about that?"
Her lawyer, Jim Hanson, said he has talked to many problem gamblers in the course of filing many of the lawsuits.
"These are people who allowed their gambling to destroy their families, and they attempted suicide. They weren't choosing this. To be effective there has to be an exclusion program that protects them from further losses," Hanson said.
BCLC President Michael Graydon said on July 15, 2010 that problems within the self-exclusion program would be fixed within a year.
When reached for this story, BCLC said Graydon was not available, and they were still waiting for studies on the program from the University of the Fraser Valley and B.C.'s solicitor general to be released.
However, when presented with evidence that minors were getting into casinos in another CTV News investigation, the company's response was swift: Within two months, security staff were given $900 ID scanners.
Those scanners can't be used to separate problem gamblers from regular customers, said Vancouver businessman Owen Cameron, whose company Treoscope makes privacy-compliant scanners for local bars in the Barwatch program.
"They've got an elephant of a problem and they've got a solution that would kill a mouse," he said. "There really isn't a benefit except it helps relieve the political and media pressure around the topic."