The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission took a gamble Thursday in a bid to quell the number of problem gamblers by giving them access to counselors steps away from slot machines.
The counselors will work at information kiosks designed to help problem gamblers and dispel gambling myths. The kiosks will be placed on the floors of Casino Windsor and Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls by this fall.
"(The centers are) not just for show. They need to be effective," said Alan Berdowski, chief marketing officer with the gaming commission. "One problem gambler in our premises is one too many."
The centers are part of a larger new code of conduct for the commission to curb problem gambling. Along with the information centers, the commission will expand advertising to dispel gambling myths with slogans such as, "Someone told her that pulling the arm would help her win more. . . . Actually they were pulling her leg."
The Canada Safety Council said addictive gambling is a public health crisis that accounts for up to 360 suicides a year. A recent report showed Ontario earns 35 percent of its $3.8 billion (U.S.) in annual gambling revenues from problem gamblers.
According to the Responsible Gambling Council, about 1 percent of people who place bets have a gambling problem.
Each year, 2 percent of gross revenue from slot machines is given to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Last year, the commission gave about $32 million (U.S.) to those programs.
Jon Kelly, chief executive of the Responsible Gambling Council, said the campaign would be most effective if it focused on prevention.
He said the advertising campaign is a good idea, not only to target problem gamblers, but all people who want to put their money on the table. He said information centers, similar to the ones his organization puts up in casinos and on university campuses, work when there's more talking, less counseling. "The people who run these things should be out there a lot. This should not be considered a treatment center in the casino."
Ted Arnott, the Conservatives' tourism and recreation critic, called the commission's announcement a public relations exercise. "The corporation needs those problem gamblers to generate the revenue that the government is insisting it turn over to the government," Arnott said.
G. Ron Frisch, chairman of the board for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Center, said the move is not a public relations ploy; it is something that must be done.
Berdowski, the commission's marketing director, denied that public pressure had pushed the commission to act now, adding that the majority of Ontarians don't just tolerate gambling but enjoy it and see it as entertainment.
NDP House Leader Peter Kormos said he didn't find gambling entertaining. "Anne Murray is entertainment. SpongeBob
SquarePants] is entertainment," he said. "
Gambling] isn't entertainment." Kormos said a step in the right direction would be to get rid of automated teller machines on the casino floors and prevent casinos from offering perks such as limousine rides to big gamblers.