Odds favour more help for gamblers

Problem gamblers in Alberta who have signed up for voluntary bans will be subject to fines of up to $250 if they’re found inside gaming establishments, starting Nov. 1.

CALGARY — Problem gamblers in Alberta who have signed up for voluntary bans will be subject to fines of up to $250 if they’re found inside gaming establishments, starting Nov. 1.

Lynn Hutchings Mah of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission says the group “felt there was a need for a consequence to help individuals from violating their self-exclusion agreements.”

At any given time, 1,500 to 1,600 Albertans are signed up with the voluntary gambling ban, which makes their photos available to casino security or responsible gaming monitors.

The commission is also in the process of scheduling mandatory, three-hour anti-gaming classes for the volunteers.

Gaming regulators are also looking at the possibility of forcing all casino-goers to produce photo identification cards to weed out problem gamblers.

Hutchings-Mah says other options might include casino spending limit cards.

“We’re looking at technologies with the goal of enhancing responsible gambling initiatives,” said Hutchings-Mah.

“The province is researching best practices from around the world . . . there’s a lot we need to look at before we make a decision.”

University of Calgary gaming researchers say five per cent of Alberta adults are problem gamblers — up to two per cent have severe addictions.

Provincial officials say the numbers are smaller, with 3.8 per cent at high to moderate risk of problem gambling.

“There’s actually been a slight decline in problem gambling risk,” said Hutchings-Mah.

U of C gambling researcher Dr. David Hodgins said no magic bullet exists in taming gambling addictions but lauded the efforts to reduce them.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm around the card systems — they encourage people to figure out how much they’re willing to gamble,” said Hodgins, a clinical psychologist.

“People are mesmerized by the whole experience and lose track of time and money.”

But he said the real proof of success in such campaigns are shrinking gambling revenues collected by the province — something’s that’s rarely been seen in Alberta in recent years.

“The trick is to monitor these things —you don’t want to do it just as window-dressing,” he said.

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