In northern BC there are seven casinos, according to the BC lottery corporation. However, only two of those locations are genuine casinos, while the other five are gaming centres called, Chances. These venues don’t offer poker or table games, but only electronic games and slots.
This illustrates the point made by Martha Funk from Responsible and Problem Gambling in BC. She explains that several years ago, someone from the provincial government said there would be no more casinos built in BC. “That is interesting because there haven’t been, but there are community gaming centres,” says Funk.
And those have increased exponentially; the number of Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) per 100,000 people having increased by just over 210 percent in the last decade. They accounted for 55.6 percent of government-operated gaming revenue in 2010/2011. In the last decade, total gaming revenue for the BC government increased substantially, from about $1.1 Billion to $2.1 Billion.
“When we talk about gambling we don’t encourage people to gamble, but we don’t encourage them not to gamble. We give them straight facts in terms of odds and how to keep it safe if you are going to gamble,” says Funk.
She explains about 4.7 percent of gamblers in BC have a problem with gambling and recent research shows this number could be more towards ten percent. This group, says Funk, brings in about 90 percent of the revenue. According to Funk, the odds of walking away with money are actually less for people who gamble often, than for someone who gambles sporadically.
This information is aligned with a report released by the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who has analyzed gambling from a public-health perspective. “Gambling revenues are an increasingly important revenue source for the government of BC,” says Kendall. “My report examines the inherent challenges that government faces in seeking to raise revenue while not increasing social harms, and makes a number of evidence-based recommendations for government to consider.”
Surveys show in 2007 about 27 percent of British Columbians were non-gamblers, 60 percent were non-problem gamblers, and another nine percent were low-risk gamblers. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of people in BC with the most severe form of problem gambling more than doubled, increasing from about 13,000 people to more than 31,000 people.
The report explains the prevalence of problem gambling in BC is relatively low, but it has been increasing also noting there has been a substantial increase in the availability of inherently riskier gambling opportunities, such as the electronic gaming machines previously mentioned.
While Kendall notes that the provincial government deserves recognition for implementing various problem-gambling prevention and treatment programs, the report also recommends increasing the percentage of gaming revenue allocated to prevention and treatment, and on research and evaluation.
Though having a moderately high level of revenue from gambling, BC spends the least (less than half the amount of other the provinces) of their gaming revenue on programs to help those with gambling addictions.
There are 17 recommendations for government in the report identifying specific actions that can be taken to decrease risks to the most vulnerable populations and improve the responsiveness of the system to emerging problems related to gambling. These recommendations include; placing signage on all electronic gaming machines in service in BC conveying the risk-rating of that machine, so consumers can make informed point-of-play choices about the games they choose to play and improving the capacity of BC Lottery Corporation staff to actively identify and respond to problem gamblers in its venues, including community gaming centres.
There was no regional data available to see if gambling trends differ from region to region throughout the province.
The report can be viewed at: www.health.gov.bc.ca/pho. For more information visit: www.bcresponsiblegambling.ca.