GameSense or nonsense?

GameSense or nonsense

Last year, British Columbia Lottery Corp. president and chief executive officer Michael Graydon told reporters the firm had revamped its responsible gaming program, in part, because it was too "Big Brother-y." This, according to The Province's Cheryl Chan. But an internal record exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request suggests another more Machiavellian motivation behind the so-called GameSense campaign which replaced it - a charge rejected by the lottery corporation because, according to it, that document is inaccurate.

In a June 24, 2009 news release promoting the campaign, BCLC quoted the head of a national non-profit problem gaming prevention organization as stating, "The introduction of the GameSense innovation will make essential problem gambling prevention information much more friendly, appealing and accessible."

But, a month prior, meeting minutes for the corporation's board of directors note BCLC marketing director Margaret Watson gave a presentation in which she explained how the advertising materials for GameSense would "entice players to play but to do so in a responsible manner."

That's troubling news to New Democrat opposition gaming critic Shane Simpson.

"The responsibility of the lottery corporation is to ensure that problem gamblers - and particularly people with significant gambling problems - are supported in not gambling. It isn't the role of the lottery corporation to try to encourage them to gamble responsibly."

"These are people who have a serious problem and an addictive nature," he continued. "It's hypocrisy for the lottery corporation on one hand to say they're supporting problem gamblers while on the other they're getting them to gamble. It's like saying to an alcoholic, I can teach you to drink just a little bit."

But a lottery corporation spokesperson stated in an email, "The language was incorrectly used by the person taking the meeting minutes and does not reflect the spirit of the presentation."

The spokesperson also provided a copy of the PowerPoint slides used during Ms. Watson's dog and pony show.

Those slides state the purpose of GameSense is to "educate players & the public about responsible play and improve gambling literacy" - with no mention of an attempt to entice British Columbians to gamble more.

Nevertheless, information included in a responsible gaming quiz posted on the GameSense portion of the lottery corporation's Website could be seen as doing exactly that.

It asks visitors to test their knowledge about gambling "myths and misinformation" by checking the answers to 12 true/false statements.

Some of those answers would likely discourage British Columbians from playing games of chance - disabusing them, for example, of the notion that "lucky numbers" will increase their likelihood of winning the lottery.

But two of them might actually have the opposite affect.

At one point, the quiz states its "nonsense" to believe "winning the lottery will ruin my life" because "everyone will hound me for money."

The reason: "According to research with major prize winners, nearly all say that the win allowed them to do things like get out of debt, pay mortgages, plan for a secure financial future, pay for education, share with other people, donate to charities and enjoy some of the fun things in life."

The quiz also states it's similarly foolish to think "the lottery is fixed, since most of the winners come from out East."

"Every lottery ticket sold has the same chance/odds of winning the jackpot, regardless of where it was purchased," it explains. "If you notice a larger number of winners in big cities, it's because there are more people buying lottery tickets there, resulting in more winners. Years of tracking lottery sales in BC and across Canada and lottery jackpot wins confirms this."

Still, those statements could also be seen as just giving players the information they need to "make informed choices" about gambling - which is the line being used by the corporation.

Regardless, Mr. Simpson said the issue shows, "It's extremely difficult for an organization whose primary purpose is to promote gambling to then be able to change the channel and look at how it goes out and tries to take its most active gamblers and get them to stop."

British Columbia Lottery Corp. board meeting minutes for May 27, 2009

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