Four problem gamblers sue casinos, BCLC for $400K
Jon Woodward, ctvbc.ca
Published Thursday, March 3, 2011 6:03PM PST
The B.C. Lottery Corporation and related casinos are facing a number of new lawsuits from gambling addicts who claim they signed up to be kept out of casinos, but were instead allowed in to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One gambler felt so hopeless that she could not depend on BCLC's self-exclusion program that she tried to commit suicide and ended up lying face-up in a river, one of the suits claims.
"Up to this point, she had never been refused entry to or prevented from gambling," reads the notice of claim from Carol Barton.
"The Plaintiff left like a failure and completely hopeless. She drove herself to a secluded spot out of town and drank an overdose of pills, in an attempt to commit suicide. She awoke in the early morning hours, with her head propped up between two rocks while lying in a river," the document reads.
The four lawsuits take aim at the self-exclusion program, which is one of the main tenets of the crown corporation's protection for problem gamblers. In the program, gambling addicts declare they have a problem and are told they will be kept out.
But the gamblers claim they were only stopped or removed on rare occasions. They claim the casinos didn't live up to their promise to help their addiction and should pay back the money made from the plaintiffs. The total claims exceed $400,000.
The suits come when BCLC is backing a major expansion of gambling in downtown Vancouver at BC Place, and arguing social costs will be minimal.
BCLC President Michael Graydon told CTV News that under the program it's up to the gamblers to take the responsibility to stay away from the casinos.
"It's a voluntary program and that's made clear at the time of signup," he said.
Gambling expert Colin Campbell says casinos have yet to recognize the research that shows an addiction to gambling is as real as addiction to drugs.
Campbell believes there's a good reason BCLC and its casinos aren't kicking problem gamblers out -- they tend to be the casino's best customers.
"They'll turn a blind eye because those players are paying their paycheck," Campbell said.
The suits touch on a similar problem to what CTV News identified in a hidden-camera investigation last summer. We watched an excluded gambler walk in and out of casino after casino without being stopped.
B.C.'s minister responsible for gambling ordered a review and the Lottery Corporation promised to fix the program within a year.
Graydon said this week the company has made changes including enhancing facial recognition software technology and adjusting the entrances so that people are herded in a way that helps the facial recognition technology work.
The company says it has kicked out more than 8,000 people on the self-exclusion program in 2010. They don't keep statistics on the number of people allowed in the casinos despite the program.
BCLC has not filed a notice of defense in any of the new suits.
In Barton's suit against BCLC, Goldwing Investments, Enterprise Entertainment, and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Inc., she claims she was introduced to gambling in Las Vegas, but didn't start playing the slots in Lake City Kamloops until 1999.
She claims she signed up to the self-exclusion program four different times, was promised she would be kept out of the casino, and yet she received no different treatment from the casino except when she or a friend explicitly asked to be told to leave.
In 2005 she tried to kill herself with an overdose of pills, the suit says. She was later admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act, and then discharged. Within three weeks she was back at the casino.
Barton claims she lost $200,000 during the periods she had signed up for the self-exclusion program.
Marie Martin is suing BCLC, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Inc. She claims she signed up for the self-exclusion program at the River Rock Casino in 2005.
"For the following year the Plaintiff consistently continued to enter and gamble at the River Rock and/or the Grand Villa without ever being questioned, stopped, or turned away," her lawsuit reads.
"As a result of the defendant's failure to properly enforce the program, the plaintiff has suffered significant financial loss," the lawsuit reads. Martin asks for damages but does not specify an amount.
James Stanworth is suing British Columbia Lottery Corporation, Great Canadian Casinos Inc., and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Inc. He claims he gambled at Boulevard Casino, Starlight Casino and Grand Villa with his disposable income, then his credit card, and then his RRSPs.
"The plaintiff felt such emotion surrounding gambling that he began to lose his ability to control the frequency of his gambling and the amount he gambled," the lawsuit reads.
In May 2007, he signed up to the program and the suit claims he was told employees would keep him out. When he returned three months later, the suit claims no one ordered him out at all.
Stanworth claims he lost $171,000 during the period he was on the self-exclusion program.
Another lawsuit claims a woman lost $38,100 through gambling at the River Rock casino after signing up to the self-exclusion program.
She attempted suicide in July 2011, and was admitted to hospital, and then enrolled in a treatment centre.
The woman is suing BCLC and Great Canadian Casinos Inc.
The gamblers are represented by two lawyers, Jim Hanson and Laird Cruikshank.