Tighter system to ban problem gamblers pledged

Studies find self-exclusion at casinos easy to beat but still worthwhile

Gamblers can chose the voluntary self-exclusion program and be banned from local casinos

The province says it will step up efforts to block problem gamblers who want to be barred from B.C. casinos but complain the voluntary self-exclusion system often fails to stop them.

A pair of newly released studies confirm significant numbers of excluded gamblers sneak back in despite safeguards that include licence plate recognition systems and facial recognition software.

One-third of the 169 enrolled gamblers studied by researchers over a four-year period said they walked back in undetected to place bets.

Licence plate detectors can be beaten by gamblers who take transit instead, the findings say, while the facial recognition systems so far haven’t performed well.

“It was not very difficult to enter a casino,” according to one study led by Dr. Irwin Cohen of the B.C. Centre for Social Responsibility at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Most of the excluded gamblers who tried to go back in a casino got through every time, Cohen found, and only a minority ever reported being caught.

Five per cent of those who snuck back into casinos had done so more than 25 times.

A companion study by the Responsible Gaming Council (RGC) Centre for the Advancement of Best Practices looked at the practices at five casinos in Victoria, Kelowna, New Westminster, Vancouver and Richmond.

Voluntary self-exclusion does help, the studies found.

Sixty-five per cent never tried to go back inside a casino and 35 per cent abstained completely from gambling – even at home.

That beats the general success rate of around 10 per cent for programs like Gamblers Anonymous, the report said.

An estimated 38 per cent of self-excluded gamblers got treatment of some sort.

But both sets of findings say the program lacks teeth and calls for stiffer penalties when banned gamblers are caught coming back.

The only real consequence right now, other than being ejected, is the loss of winnings.

“This is a good step but not sufficient,” the RGC report said.

Cohen’s review suggested publicly shaming chronic violators by posting their photos near casino entrances, as retailers sometimes do with shoplifters.

He also said the BC Lottery Corp. (BCLC) could do more to remind excluded gamblers that any jackpots they win will be confiscated.

Mandatory counselling could also be tried, the study said.

BCLC is also urged to make it easier for gamblers to renew their exclusion, and perhaps to choose a lifetime ban. Gamblers so far can exclude themselves from six months to three years, but not permanently.

There are hopes an improved facial recognition system now being tested will prove more effective.

The licence plate recognition system is also being upgraded so an audible alert sounds when an excluded gambler’s vehicle arrives.

BCLC also says it will circulate shortlists of the most frequent or recent violators to all gambling venues in the region to help staff better detect high-risk patrons.

The program remains voluntary and self-directed – the corporation said it won’t bar gamblers from casinos at the request of their spouses or family members.

Eighty-three per cent of gamblers in the study listed slot machines as their gambling problem, while 61 per cent said casino card games, 33 per cent listed Internet gambling and 26 per cent said video poker in casinos.

Seventy-three per cent of the studied gamblers said they lied to family about gambling and 34 per cent said they had suicidal thoughts due to gambling.

Eight of the gamblers said they attempted suicide because of gambling, 10 attempted to harm themselves and 11 said they turned to crime.

More than 3,700 gamblers are currently self-excluded.

Public safety minister Shirley Bond said the province wants to ensure self-exclusion is as effective as possible.

“The research has already guided enhancements to our program and we remain committed to further improving what has been shown to be a very effective resource for our patrons,” added BCLC president Michael Graydon.

Several lawsuits underway claim the BCLC was negligent in failing to keep compulsive gamblers enrolled in the program from getting into local casinos and losing hundreds of thousands.