For most it’s simply harmless fun — a slice of entertainment and a chance to win some money.
But for a small percentage, gambling can become as big a problem as alcohol or drug addiction.
And like any community the Tri-Cities is not immune to the problem.
“There’s no doubt there is an issue [with problem gambling] in our community, I would guess it’s similar — to other communities,” said Martin Wyant, CEO of the SHARE Family & Community Services Society. The organization offers problem gambling counselling.
On Wednesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall released a report on legalized gambling in B.C. from a health perspective.
The report provides a snapshot of just how many people in the province have a problem with gambling.
According to the report, which used a survey from 2007, 27 per cent were non-gamblers, 60 per cent were non-problem gamblers, and another nine per cent were low-risk gamblers.
However, a total of 4.6 per cent of residents were considered moderate-risk or problem gamblers, representing approximately 159,000 people. The report noted that between 2002 and 2007, the number of people in B.C. with the most severe form of problem gambling more than doubled, increasing from approximately 13,000 people to more than 31,000 people.
While the report suggested the prevalence of problem gambling in B.C. is relatively low, it stated it has been increasing and needs to be addressed.
The report is calling on the government to increase the percentage of gaming revenue allocated to prevention and treatment, and on research for problem gambling.
Though Wyant couldn’t say how much of SHARE’s resources go toward problem gambling programming, he suggested a conversation around funding is needed.
He said there is an argument to be made that a good proportion of funds earned by gaming in the province be dedicated to issues arising from problem gambling.
But beyond sheer resources, Wyant suggested more thought is needed about how that money gets invested.
“I think it is a legitimate health-related issue for a certain segment of people who are otherwise not challenged by anything else,” he said.
The province collects $2.1 billion annually in gaming revenue, but spends the lowest amount per capita across the country on problem gambling treatment. B.C. spent $5.6 million on problem gambling treatment in 2011-12.
Wyant’s bigger concern isn’t the casino, but rather online gaming.
“The online gambling we see is a much more significant concern because I don’t know what safeguards you can put in that are reasonable in this day and age,” he said.
“It’s just so easy and accessible.”
The health officer’s report also made 17 recommendations to address problem gambling, including placing signs on all gaming machines conveying their risk-rating and restricting or reducing the amount of alcohol in gaming facilities.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said programs need to be in place to reduce the impacts of problem gaming.
“Where government benefits from an activity, we should be prepared to invest in the mitigation of the harmful effects,” he told the Tri-Cities NOW.
Though he noted the city benefits from gaming revenue by way of the Boulevard Casino, the mayor said he wishes government had not brought slot machines into B.C. in the first place.
As for gaming expansion, Stewart said he’s not sure limiting casinos or slot machines would reduce the number of problem gamblers.
“A problem gambler is going to find their fix. I think we need to be there as a society to assist that problem gambler in controlling the addiction,” he said.
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