High stakes: addicted to gambling
The B.C. government's move to embrace gambling has meant soaring revenues that go to government services, but critics say plans to dramatically increase gaming online and build a downtown casino go too far.
Later this year, the crown corporation that runs gambling in the province, the B.C. Lottery Corporation, is planning to launch virtual casinos that link gamers from several other provinces, accessed from cell phones.
And a massive casino expansion south of BC Place that could begin construction next year would have twice the gaming tables and three times the slot machines as the current Edgewater Casino.
"Every government will want the money," said NDP gambling critic Shane Simpson. "But [the Liberals] have become quite addicted."
Gambling revenues have seen record highs each year for the past 24 years, and now stand at more than $1 billion a year.
While running for office, Premier Gordon Campbell was a vocal critic of gambling. "It's short term gain for long term pain," was one of his statements to media at the time.
But now Campbell says that the billion-dollar windfall is just one consequence of government gambling -- it's also improved an industry that once drove gambling underground, with little support for problem gamblers.
"It's got to be done in the right way, and I think we've done that in terms of making sure that problem gamblers are getting the support they need," Campbell said after a press conference Monday. "The quality of the industry has improved and it does provide significant support for health care and education across the province."
Gambling addict Wayne -- not his real name -- would disagree. CTV News has agreed to protect Wayne's identity because he's worried being outed as a gambling addict could affect his small business.
In the past eight years he's lost half a million dollars because of his obsession with problem gambling. He compares it to a drug-like high.
"There's nothing else in the world but that moment in time," he said. "Slots. I would sit there for hours, not thinking about anything, not thinking about the damage that I've done."
Wayne isn't alone – the province's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch estimates there are 159,000 total problem gamblers in B.C., including 31,000 with a severe problem like Wayne's.
"There's a huge problem out there and the government doesn't see it. It's a huge problem," he told CTV News.
"I never had a problem with gambling until the casinos came to our neck of the woods. They're trying to generate more revenue but they're creating a huge problem for the kids coming up these days."
Wayne has been given free gambling counselling that was paid for by the B.C. Lottery Corporation, but he says his cravings grew to the point he checked himself into a hospital and was put on suicide watch.
"It doesn't work," he said, adding that gambling expansion puts fear into his heart. "There's just going to be more and more people hurt."
The minister responsible for gaming, Rich Coleman, says that if there's a need for gambling counselling a victim can get it for free.
The province and BCLC offer one-on-one counselling, group counselling, and an intensive "Discovery Program" that has day, evening and weekend treatment, he said.
"It's an uncomfortable balance because you're making money from the gaming but you do have people who are having problems," Coleman said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Mi-Jung Lee and Jon Woodward