Playing a close hand

In the gambling business, the house always wins. But it seems the British Columbia Lottery Corp. thinks the same rules apply when questions are raised about the help its giving problem gamblers. Under the corporation's so-called self-exclusion program, those gamblers can ask to be barred from the province's casinos, community gaming centres, bingo halls or race tracks. In Ontario, a similar program has been targeted with a $3.5 billion class-action lawsuit because of its alleged shortcomings. But, in British Columbia, the corporation is continuing to thwart efforts to investigate if there have been shortcomings with our own program.

This July, it rejected a June 2008 freedom of information request from Public Eye for records assessing the program's performance. The reason: because those records might contain policy advice or information that could harm the corporation's financial or economic interests.

If you're a Public Eye reader, you may remember reading something about this story before. But there's a new twist to this tale.

Public Eye appealed the corporation's decision to information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis's office. And that's when British Columbia Lotteries tried to cut a deal.

Drop the appeal and we'll make "available" the two "final reports of the Voluntary Self-Exclusion process."

We turned down that offer and filed another freedom of information request for those final reports.

The corporation responded by giving us just one of them, a seven-page document checking-in on whether it had been doing enough to ensure it isn't marketing to self-excluded players.

But it's keeping the remaining 72-page report under lock and key for a range of reasons, claiming its release could compromise the security of the corporation's computers systems, violate solicitor-client privilege and so on.

Asked for comment, New Democrat critic Shane Simpson said, "The issue of whether the programs for problem gamblers are being successful or not is a matter of public interest. And the lottery corporation should not be able to block the public interest."

"It's objectionable the lottery corporation would try to negotiate a deal to be able to keep information off-the-table. And then, when a journalist won't accept the deal, they then punish him by refusing to supply the information they said they would supply in the first place."

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