Gambling with the law

In June, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported "a $3.5-billion proposed class-action lawsuit has been launched on behalf of addicted gamblers who allege they asked to be barred from Ontario's casinos, but were still allowed in. The suit was filed against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in Toronto on Tuesday, claiming the corporation did not do enough for those who signed up for 'self-exclusion,' a program that allows people to have themselves banned from casinos so that they can curb their ruinous gambling habits." So, last night on Voice of BC we asked Social Development Minister Rich Coleman whether he thought the British Columbia Lottery Corp. was doing enough to enforce its own responsible gambling program.

His response: "In B.C., it's a combination. It's a combination of the Crown corporation and the gaming policy and enforcement branch. There's a $7 million program for problem gamblers in B.C. There's a 1-800 line. There's information in every washroom and every machine and everything saying, 'Know your limit. Play within it.' They watch for people that have a difficulty and they try and get them to do self-exclusion - try and identify with their needs within the gaming package."

"We should also recognize, though, that one of the lowest incidents of problem gaming actually takes place in legal establishments," he continued. "One of the highest growths that we're seeing in problem gaming is stuff that's not under the control of the governments in Canada or in British Columbia. Even though, under the criminal code, we have responsibility for the conduct and management of gaming, these Internet sites that you can put your Visa card into from your residence have no control outside of British Columbia. I'd like to see how we could, as a country, figure out how to get some discipline into that because I think that's hurting people."

"I do believe that the conduct and management which sits with the province has to be professionally done. What I said to the corporation and to the policy branch, since I just got this piece of the portfolio back, is, "If there's a study out there that you're hearing about, you follow that. But you make sure you're staying on top of your game too, so that you guys are sharing your information across this country and with other jurisdictions to know if there are any issues that we're missing because I want to be on top of it."

But Minister Coleman isn't just responsible for gaming policy and enforcement. The recent cabinet shuffle also put him in charge of liquor control and licensing. So we asked Minister Coleman whether he would be taking any further action to assist private liquor stores, such as cutting the price they pay to buy booze from the government

"Just so we understand what they do, we don't really have a true wholesale price in the liquor system because the liquor distribution side didn't measure its stores and its distribution separately. So the actual price of the bottle at the store at the wholesale was put into a larger package of dollars," he responded. "Originally there was a 10 percent discount allowed for beer and wine stores. It was taken to 12 percent over a period of time - working with the distribution branch and with our stores and seeing how those things transitioned. We sort of came to the conclusion that about 16 percent was probably the discount that was fair in that marketplace. That was enough so they paid 16 percent of what the liquor store shelf price is; that's their discount. We treat that as their wholesale price. They buy that now and they mark it up accordingly. They can go 5 percent, 10 percent, and if they think they've got a market that's prepared to pay more for a specialty liquor, they can do that, too. So can our liquor stores."

"The discount is where it is. And there's no intention at this point in time to change the discount that is established. I believed, when I left the ministry in 2005 to take on the different portfolio when I was made the minister of forests and range, that 16 percent was the number at that time. We'd started the work. We felt we were pretty close to identifying, 'Is that what the number was?' Over the period of the next year, they finished that off, is what it was."

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