VLT gambling comes with high societal cost

The impetus for this request is that gambling addiction, especially pertaining to VLTs, is becoming a significant and growing health problem. As a result of promotion by government the most powerful and influential organization in society gambling addiction may one day equal social and health problems associated with alcohol abuse.

Increased accessibility and promotion of gambling cause a rapid increase in the incidence of addiction. In Alberta, with the longest history of gambling promotion, almost nine per cent of adults are considered problem gamblers.

Gambling addiction can be devastating not only to the individual who may lose life savings and home but to family members. For those of us who have witnessed this and we are a growing number it is a tragic affair.

The addicted gambler often becomes severely depressed and, at times, suicidal. Frequently, the person turns to alcohol to avoid a painful reality.

The lot of family members is not much better. Children's basic needs often are not met and the marital discord the addiction creates often leads to family violence and divorce.

Unfortunately, divorce fails to provide any real solution because the financial situation as a single-parent family is not much better. As a result, the children often fail to finish educational training and are at higher risk to be involved in juvenile delinquency and crime.

Ultimately, it is not just the individual and family who suffer but the community and the fabric of society.

Why provincial governments have decided to use this form of revenue generation and what this has to do with their commitment to a "wellness model" is beyond my comprehension.

We may have been near financial bankruptcy but does that mean we need to take desperate actions that ultimately will do us more harm than good?

We would not expect the government to promote smoking in an effort to increase the revenue it generates, so why should it promote the use of VLTs, considered by some the crack cocaine of gambling?

Several myths surround gambling promotion and current government strategies. The first is that we are creating new wealth.

This would be true if people from outside Saskatchewan were coming to our casinos. However, essentially all revenues are from our own citizens.

The second myth is that the money is coming from those who can afford it.

Although gambling addiction affects all levels of society, those who can least afford it often have the highest incidence of gambling addiction. Furthermore, the majority of revenue generated comes from people addicted to gambling.

The third myth is that VLTs are no different than any other form of gambling, such as church hall bingos, and that morally we're all to blame for propagation of this problem.

Clearly, one cannot equate bingo halls, especially those sponsored by community-based groups, to government-promoted VLTs. We do not have community-sponsored bingos in every bar or tavern across Saskatchewan every day of the week.

Furthermore, it takes a whole evening to lose $30 to $50 at bingo, while with a VLT one can lose considerably more than $1,000 in the same time.

The last and biggest myth is that, by adding a few extra dollars to addiction treatment programs, we can offset, or at least minimize, the deleterious effects on individuals, families and society.

I can only equate this to the government promoting smoking and promising to offset the adverse effects by increasing the money provided to the Saskatoon Cancer Clinic.

As in the case of lung cancer, once you have the disease, it is usually too late to cure it.

With gambling, the damage has already been done. People have lost their savings, homes and families and you cannot just put lives or families back together.

As with cancer, treatments are expensive. As with any form of addiction, there is a high failure rate.

Even if that were not the case, only a portion of the addicted seek out help. Furthermore, counselling does not address the whole spectrum of social and health problems created.

I am not advocating abolition of gambling. However, elimination of VLTs, or at least restricting them to casinos, would be a significant step in prevention of gambling addiction.

Treatment programs will never be the answer. If anything they are an excuse not to address the real problem promotion and propagation of gambling by the state.