CTV hidden camera probe sparks casino review
The B.C. government is promising to review how it deals with problem gamblers after a CTV News hidden camera investigation showed a gambling addict facing zero resistance as he repeatedly entered area casinos.
Despite the so-called "self-exclusion program," B.C. casinos simply aren't doing enough to stop gambling addicts from gambling their money away, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said after viewing the footage.
"It's not acceptable," said Coleman. "We'll have a look at the program."
The self-exclusion program is a treatment option for problem gamblers where an addict can sign up to promise to stay away from casinos. In turn, the casino can remove the person from the premises, deny the problem gambler his or her winnings, and the government can issue fines.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation is careful to say it has no obligation to keep gamblers out.
"They volunteer to stay out of our facilities and we do what we can to support that decision," said Paul Smith, BCLC director of corporate and social responsibility.
But a problem gambler named "Wayne" would disagree. CTV News has agreed not to identify him because outing him as a gambler could hurt his family and small business. Wayne said the company is choosing not to remove problem gamblers because there's too much money at stake.
Wayne applied for the self-exclusion program, and was offered free counselling. He says the counselling did help, but when it came to supporting his decision to stay away from casinos, it didn't work.
Rather than keeping him out, Wayne says the casinos let him in every time he tried to go -- and he lost another $70,000.
"It's a joke," he said. "They don't care about people. They care about money."
B.C. doesn't keep track of how much money comes from problem gamblers. But in Ontario, the five per cent of problem gamblers provide some 38 per cent of revenue for casinos.
We wanted to see how the self-exclusion program really works, so we sent a CTV producer to Boulevard Casino in Coquitlam to sign up.
Our producer asked a security guard for help, and the guard stayed with him for a few minutes until a gambling counsellor arrived. Then he and the counsellor walked across the casino floor into a side room.
One they had sat down, the counsellor told him that ultimately the decision to stay away from B.C. casinos was up to the individual gambler.
But the counsellor also said that our producer would be exposed to fines if he returned to the casino, and he could be stopped from entering and gambling at all casinos in the province.
"The moment you enter the property we will be able to recognize you are here," the counsellor says on the hidden camera footage.
And if he had designs on winning a jackpot, he should think again -- the counsellor told him that a new provincial law prohibits paying out any winnings to a self-identified problem gambler.
"If you win you will not be able to collect," said the counsellor on tape. "That money will go to Victoria. There's no way you can win."
They took our producer's picture, he signed the agreement, and then the counsellor ejected him through a side door.
A week later, the producer returned, just as a problem gambler might. As for the claim that he would be recognized at the door -- that didn't happen. Casino security guards didn't notice him, and he walked right by.
Our producer sat down at the slot machine, put money in, and then after the first win, went to cash out. No one stopped him at any point.
It was the same story at three other casinos -- Edgewater Casino in Vancouver, River Rock Casino in Richmond, and Grand Villa Casino in Burnaby. Our producer got in, gambled, and got paid.
Casinos have struggled to remove problem gamblers for some time. They have tried facial recognition software to keep problem gamblers out, but they admit it just doesn't work. They've had more success using licence plate recognition software, but that leaves out everyone entering on foot.
Critics say the main problem is security guards are relying on photos -- but a single person can't be expected to keep track of 6500 people in the program.
"Person after person is going into the casino, they're not enforcing the program, and that's why it's not effective," said NDP gaming critic Shane Simpson.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation said they know that people get in and gamble, despite the protections they offer.
"All I can tell you is that we had 8,200 people intercepted," he said, referring to the 2009/2010 figures.
"We know there are lots of people who get in without being intercepted. I would love to see systems that could help us stop everyone, but it's not practical," he said.
Wayne says the answer is simple -- check ID at the door. He says that would keep him out for sure.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward and Mi-Jung Lee