The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is facing legal claims of Cdn$ 3.5 million from a problem slots gambler who alleges that he has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to an ineffective "self exclusion" system in the organisation's responsible gambling program.
Reporting on the litigation, The Canadian Press revealed that player Peter Dennis's inability to stay away from the slots had terrible consequences for him and his family, but senior gaming officials say that blaming the "self-exclusion program" for his problems was both dangerous and misguided.
"What we find troubling is the belief that this program, when distorted to be something that it isn't, provides hope to real victims that somehow they have found a way not to be responsible for dealing with their own addiction," said Rob Moore, a senior vice-president with the gaming corporation. "It's quite dangerous and misleading to think that one could transfer the responsibility they have once they've confirmed they have an addiction onto a third party."
In his suit against the OLG, Dennis argues that gaming staff allowed him to keep gambling even though he had authorised them to deny him access to land casinos. Under the voluntary self-exclusion program problem gamblers can request that the province's gambling facilities use their "best efforts" to keep them out or remove them if they managed to circumvent exclusion measures.
Dennis's class action in the Ontario Superior Court claims that the OLG self exclusionary program was a sham that profited from the most vulnerable gamblers, allowing Dennis to blow some Cdn$ 350 000 between August 2000 and May 2004 on various slot machines. His health declined, and he became depressed and anxious.
After one 11-week, Cdn$ 59 000 binge, he signed a self-exclusion form at Woodbine Racetrack on May 23, 2004. Officials took his personal information and photograph.
However, his addiction to the slots got the better of him and he continued to frequent gaming facilities and gambling venues, leading to further Cdn$ 200 000 in losses.
Ultimately, lenders foreclosed on his two homes and he was fired from his job at a data-management company for failing to pay back money he borrowed from a client.
"Throughout the precipitous deterioration of the welfare of Dennis and his family members, the (OLG) enriched itself at the Dennis family's expense, contrary to its contractual obligations under the self-exclusion contract and other duties," the suit asserts.
Among other things, the suit alleges, the corporation was lax in allowing people on the exclusion list to enter casinos, failing to train staff properly to enforce the program, and not implementing technology to detect those who sought entry anyway.
About 12,000 people have signed onto the OLG self exclusionary program. Staff remove between 600 and 800 of those a year and the gaming corporation said it was experimenting with new technology to help better detect those on the exclusion list.
OLG spokesman Moore claimed in a statement this week that the exclusion program was never meant to turn gaming staff into detectives, but rather to allow addicted gamblers to take a self-help step by having them acknowledge their problem.
"To presume that this one program is designed as a policing program to keep people out is just wrong," Moore said. "It was not in its intent, design or its execution a commitment for us to exclude people or to stop people from coming into our facilities."
Moore added that the suit highlights the "real and tragic" circumstances associated with gambling addiction. "Bad things happen to people's lives when they lose control . . . and the materials that are filed as a result of this are tragic and quite alarming," he said. "I don't want to dismiss those as frivolous because it's not; they're real circumstances and that's why we have a commitment to this."
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