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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Les Leyne: Problem gamblers shamefully ignored

Les Leyne: Problem gamblers shamefully ignored

Les Leyne / Times Colonist
JULY 16, 2016
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The B.C. Lottery Corp. and the View Royal casino trotted out the standard defence in response to the disgraceful exposé last week involving the nonagenarian gambling addict who lost every cent she had and more at the casino.
There was a pat rendition of all the measures in place to deter problem gamblers and unctuous expressions of concern for the welfare of the woman who was relieved of several hundred thousand dollars over a few years.
Colleague Katherine Dedyna recounted the story of Elfriede Lippa, who a few years ago was living in a paid-off condo with a $100,000 nest egg in the bank. She took to gambling, unbeknownst to her family, and over a period of several years, ran through the savings, mortgaged her home twice and wound up owing so much she is virtually bankrupt.
Now she’s 91 years old living in a long-term care home while her shocked family deals with the aftermath.
An “unfortunate situation,” the B.C. Lottery Corp. said, recounting all the “GameSense” protocols that are supposed to prevent this from ever happening. In the meantime, as colleague David Bly recounted here Friday, readers shared similar stories.
The government and the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. have an elaborate presentation on all the measures to deal with problem gamblers. Here’s the thing: They’re not good enough.
Not all casino-goers are gambling addicts. But the damage they inflict on themselves and wreak on their families is way out of proportion to their numbers. Lippa’s story and the others that came to light illustrates that the counter-measures are coming up way short.
It’s partly because the Crown corporation and the casino companies put a big emphasis on “privacy concerns.” Citizens have the right to lawfully spend money as they please. But the right to privacy is being used as a dodge to avoid taking responsibility and intervening in Lippa’s gambling habits at the numerous opportunities that came up.
Did anyone notice through the abundant surveillance system the same elderly woman was in the casino Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day?
How many times does a senior citizen have to go to an ATM before someone realizes there might be an issue?
Why doesn’t racking up 34,872 points on a casino loyalty card in just 43 days not trigger any warnings?
That hackneyed phrase “it takes a village” is most often used in terms of collective responsibility for children. But it takes a village to look after advanced seniors as well. And BCLC and the casino, along with the lenders, shirked their village duties in letting this slide for so long.
“We respect the privacy of our players in how they choose to manage their discretionary funds,” said the Crown corporation.
It respected her privacy right through her financial nightmare, as well. By doing nothing. Lippa wouldn’t even show up in the problem-gambler statistics, because they never intervened or interacted with her.
A nonagenarian lying drunk on the street or living as addict in the tent city would get the full rollout of assistance. But one who blows through hundreds of thousands of dollars in a government-sanctioned casino can do so in full view of advisers.
GameSense, a pretend word for a pretend program, has a bunch of elementary information on problem gambling. But people would have to recognize they have a problem in order to look for a solution. The hallmark of addiction is refusing to accept that fact.
It’s up to the “GameSense advisers” and casino staff on duty to recognize potential problems and act on them. BCLC says they do that by looking for gamblers in distress, those who are drunk or blaming the slot machines.
You have to wonder if they intervene then to help them, or because they’re disturbing the other customers being relieved of their money.
The government and the casinos portray gambling as a fun way to spend the occasional evening. Sophisticated, happy middle-agers drop a few bucks, have a few laughs and go home happy. Lots of them do. But there’s another cohort of quietly desperate people spending way more than they should.
Casinos and the government make a pile of money off them, and they don’t look that interested in cutting into the take.
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