Gambling, alcohol a dodgy mix


Problem gamblers are more likely to drink, suffer from alcoholism

B.C. government gaming watchdogs doubt serving alcohol at the Great Canadian Casino in View Royal will fuel social problems, saying no evidence exists that links drinking in casinos to out-of- control gambling.

The casino has applied to the Liquor Control Board and View Royal for a liquor licence to sell drinks to customers on its gaming floor. It currently sells alcohol in its attached restaurant.

Donna Klingspohn, manager of the Problem Gambling Program with the B.C. Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, said gambling, alcohol and drug addictions are not necessarily interconnected.

"Some problem gamblers have a drinking problem. Some problem gamblers never experience addictions to any substances," Klingspohn said. "But there has been no definitive study that says alcohol leads to problem gambling."

But it does work the other way around.

A provincial government Problem Gambling Prevalence Study from 2003 indicated that people who already gamble are more likely to drink, and that people with a gambling addiction have a higher rate of alcoholism.

The study said almost five per cent, or about 150,000 people in B.C. are at risk of developing various levels of gambling addictions. It said up to 14,000 are at risk of becoming severe or pathological gambling addicts.

The study also said a higher percentage of people in B.C. than other provinces is at risk to become addicted to gambling, meaning more people fit the profile: young adults with lower education and lower incomes.

It warned that B.C. needs to focus on preventing at-risk gamblers from spiraling into debt and self-destructive behaviour. Klingspohn noted that gambling addiction counselling in B.C. is free.

She said most problem gamblers get caught up in what is called "magical thinking" - believing in luck rather than the cold reality that the odds are stacked in favour of the house. Some people believe they are due for a lucky streak, that if they play long enough they will win, that they can outwit the dealer, or that slot machines run "hot or cold" or are due to win.

"It's called cognitive dissonance," Klingspohn said. "It's a kind of fallacious thinking that keeps people gambling."

She said problem gamblers can have themselves blacklisted from casinos and can have ready access to counselling. "Counselling can dispel myths and help people make healthy choices," she said. "We just hope they call before they really get into debt and start affecting their relationships and work. We want them to call before it becomes a serious problem."

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The provincial government spends $4 million per year on gambling addiction counselling and education programs, treating 961 clients last year. In 2004/05, the province made $457 million in casino revenues and $818 million from all gambling revenues, including lotteries.

Klingspohn said for alcohol, the Gaming Policy Branch has monitored the River Rock Casino in Richmond, which sells drinks on the gaming floor, and has recorded few problems. Like River Rock, the View Royal casino says it intends to limit drinks to one at a time, and that signs of drunkenness will prompt ejection from the building.

"Alcohol doesn't seem to be an issue for Rive Rock," she said. "There is nothing commented on by staff."

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, which oversees Gaming Policy and Enforcement, is more troubled about the potential long-term problems associated with casinos, such as criminal activity and social decay.

Last month the ministry released its interim "First Measures Report", a look at the socio-economic impact of casinos and slot machines in Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Langley Township.

So far, gambling in those cities has not disrupted traffic or increased crime, and has had little effect on tourism. Not surprizingly, the study shows an increase in the number of gamblers, but is inconclusive if they are seeing more problem gambers, despite seeing an increase in gambling addiction treatment sessions.