Revenue Comes First in CanadaPublished October 10, 2003 by OCR Editor
In Quebec, a decision has been made to maintain the current number of video-lottery terminals. This indicates the Liberals - who in opposition hounded Loto-Qu'c - are more interested in gambling revenue than health and social concerns, observers and criti
"This has left me feeling bitter and distressed... but not surprised, because, unhappily, governments have become dependent upon gambling revenues," said Claude Bilodeau, a reformed gambling addict and founder of two gambling treatment centers.
About 90 per cent of pathological gamblers in Quebec treatment programs used electronic gambling devices - VLTs or casino slot machines - said Serge Chevalier, a sociologist and addiction specialist with the Institut national de sant'ublic du Qu'c.
Public health workers "are very disappointed in this lost opportunity" to fight problem gambling, Chevalier said. "We were hoping that health concerns would be more in the forefront of the decision-making process... This announcement is not an example of that."
Loto-Qu'c recently announced its revamped, government approved policy on VLTs. It will maintain a network of 14,300 machines and cut, from 26 per cent to 21 per cent, the commission to the bar owners who operate the machines. Bar owners could take a "buyout" worth one year's commission.
The former PQ finance minister Pauline Marois ordered Loto-Quebec to maintain revenues but reduce problem gambling. In 2002, the former head of Loto-Quebec, Gaétan Frigon, proposed a major "turnaround" for the agency that included cutting back on VLTs, notably reducing the number of sites that offer them.
"The Frigon plan was never adopted by the government of Quebec," Cathy Rouleau, a spokesperson for the Quebec Health Department, said yesterday, adding her government has set up an inter-departmental committee to promote "a real debate" about gambling.
MNA Russ Williams, who sits on that committee and who, in opposition was a harsh critic of Loto-Quebec, referred reporters to Rouleau. Gambling critic Sol Boxenbaum, who often worked with Williams, said he raised his concerns about gambling addictions with Jean Charest during the election campaign.
"He said he knew about the problem and said it 'is going to be one of my priorities if I'm elected.' And he just isn't doing that," Boxenbaum said.