Gambling sends 'mixed messages'

When Problem Gambling Services representative Carolyn Pickett addressed Qualicum Beach council last week, she was planning to present a message about how to avoid gambling addiction.

But council members made no bones about how they feel governments have gambling addictions of their own.

Speaking at the monthly open house meeting Wednesday, Pickett detailed how her service, sponsored by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, works to prevent gambling addiction and to provide counseling to those who do have a problem.

Pickett noted the difference between male and female gamblers, with women tending to be escape gamblers who frequent the slot machines in order to escape from kids and bills and so on. Men, on the other hand, like risk and prefer games of chance where they feel they have an influence over the outcome. Rather than slot machines, they tend to prefer poker, horse racing and sports betting, where they feel they might have an edge.

She says it's not surprising that some people end up having a problem with their gambling.

"Human nature contributes to people having a difficulty with gambling," she says. "There's a chemical release, much as someone who is into running. The same sort of chemical is released. As well, gambling is random reinforcement, where every now and then you give them a treat. People get hooked into that."

Pickett stressed that the problem gambling help line, at 1-888- 795-6111, is available to anyone who thinks they may have a problem and offers a number of services to help.

One possibility, she says, is called the voluntary self- exclusion program, where people who have a gambling problem can sign up to be excluded from all casinos in the province for anywhere from six months to three years. Counselling is also available under the program.

While council members thanked Pickett for her presentation, they noted Qualicum Beach does not allow casinos and they noted that governments seem to also be in need of some sort of counselling.

"I personally have a big problem with this," says Councillor Barry Avis. "You support gambling, but you're indicating to people why they shouldn't gamble ... As taxpayers, we are paying your salary because the government is promoting gambling and they have to look after the people who get hooked."

Coun. Scott Tanner agreed.

"I think you need to sit down with the Solicitor General and the premier's office and discuss with them the addiction that this province has for generating tax revenues from gambling."

Although Mayor Teunis Westbroek notes Qualicum Beach residents can go to Nanaimo to gamble and therefore could have problems with addiction, he was similarly unsympathetic.

"I appreciate the component where you say how much risk there is, but ... we are seeing some mixed messages."