Families call for inquiry over VLT suicides


Four months before an addiction to video lottery terminals led 31- year-old Susan Piercey to commit suicide, she wrote a letter to the machines while at a treatment centre in her hometown of Corner Brook, Nfld.

"I sold my soul to play your game, you never judged me, ever ready to accept my money," she wrote. "I have to let you go. You've hurt me more than anything or anyone in my life."

That was in March 2003. Two months later, she took an overdose of pills and was dead in a week.

"To see someone captured by VLT addiction, which we learned started when she was 19 years of age, is just unimaginable," her father Keith told a news conference in Halifax on Monday.

The Piercey family has joined by other families who have lost relatives to VLT addiction to call on Ottawa to launch a national inquest into the social impact of the electronic gambling machines.

"We hope today helps get the ball rolling, because for so many years, so little was said about it," said Keith Piercey.

Five families from Newfoundland, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are lending their stories to a Nova Scotia campaign to get ban the machines outside casinos.

Danny Graham, a Liberal member of the provincial legislature and co-chairman of the group GameOverVLTs.com, said he wasn't surprised the campaign has grown to become a national movement.

"I think it's taking its natural course," Graham said. "This is a problem that touches on Canadians from one end of the country to the other."

But a spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said the issue is mainly a provincial concern.

"We do have some interest because of the Criminal Code," said Mylene Dupere, the minister's press secretary. "(But) the choice on whether to offer video lottery terminals is a local decision made by provinces. It is not a federal issue in this sense ... It is in provincial competence to do something."

Graham and the families said federal involvement was needed because recent attempts by provincial governments to curb VLT addiction haven't gone far enough.

Newfoundland announced a plan this spring that would reduce the number of VLTs in the province by 15 per cent over five years.

Quebec is removing more than 2,500 VLTs from neighbourhood bars and putting them into centralized gaming parlours. Meanwhile, the Ontario government has imposed a moratorium on casino expansion, British Columbia has said it won't put VLTs in bars and lounges, and Alberta has set a goal to reduce the number of locations with VLTs up to 15 per cent.

Manitoba is one of the only provinces that seems to be moving in the other direction, with recent plans to add to its stock of VLTs.

In Halifax, the provincial government has said it plans to reduce the number of VLTs and their hours of operation, but is not considering an outright ban.

Credit: CP