Alberta VLTs changing to reduce problem gambling

Tim Roske, AP Photo

All of Alberta’s 6,000 aging VLTs will be replaced by summer with new machines designed to reduce problem gambling.

But critics are questioning the $187-million cost of the three-year replacement program, adding that the new terminals do nothing to stop addicted gamblers from spending as much as they want.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission says 1,975 machines have been replaced in 278 locations, mostly in Edmonton and Calgary venues.

The new machines do not accept more than $100 at a time, and gamblers choosing to set a time limit can reset that only once before being asked to stop and cash out.

But addicted gamblers are still completely free to move to other terminals, choose against setting time limits, and keep feeding machines with $100 bills as long as they choose.

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“It means you can’t insert $200 or $300 at a time,” said Jody Korchinski, commission spokeswoman.

“These are simply player choices. And many Albertans are choosing gambling as a form of entertainment. We’re just trying to put in some tools to manage their play.”

But NDP MLA David Eggen argues if the province really cared about curbing problem gambling, “they would just have fewer VLTs, instead of putting out fancy, new shiny ones.”

Eggen added that spending as much as $187 million over three years is wrong, particularly during a time when the province continues to warn Albertans about the importance of fiscal restraint.

“If they are even spending one dime on something like this, it’s entirely inappropriate,” Eggen added.

“This government has an addiction to gambling revenue.”

Shayne Saskiw, government critic for the Wildrose Party, agreed, calling the $187 million “an astronomical amount. Aren’t there more effective and efficient ways to curb gambling? It’s mind-boggling really.”

This month’s budget documents predict Alberta will haul in $1.48 billion in gambling and lottery revenue this fiscal year, the most since 2008 — the year the last economic boom ended. The province’s net proceeds from gaming haven’t topped $1.5 billion since then, but should in 2015, the fiscal plan projects.

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Gambling research specialist David Hodgins, of the Alberta Gaming Research Institute, argues the province still needs to do more to curb problem gamblers like eliminating bill acceptors on VLTs, taking cards that have pre-committed limits, and controlling bet size.

“Alberta needs to be leading the pack in terms of providing responsible gambling features.”

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