City should limit BC Place casino's hours and province should collect better data on gambling addicts

Vancouver Not Vegas has a legitimate point when it asks the City to review the zoning of the Paragon casino planned for BC Place and confine the casino to “an appropriate size”. And, as this is ‘entertainment’ as defined by both the company and City, why not limit the gambling to the same hours as bars and restaurants in the city?  People gamble 24/7 in Las Vegas, but the same rules shouldn't apply here.

BC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, makes it clear in his recent report on gambling in BC that “there is a conflict of interest between the needs for revenue generation (from gambling) and responsibilities for health and safety”.

And, as someone who looks out for the health and safety of all British Columbians, he says gambling is a growing health problem. And those who do suffer “are significantly more likely to be hospitalized with conditions related to mental illness, problematic substance use and other conditions”.

These concerns are echoed by the lead writer of the report, Dr. Gerald Thomas. “For over a decade decisions about expanding the availability of gambling have been made almost entirely on fiscal grounds,” says Thomas. “It is time that public health and safety concerns be brought meaningfully into these discussions, and the Edgewater expansion is an excellent place to start that process. Gambling has substantial public health implications and therefore is a public health issue.”

Vancouver City Council should lead the way in BC by taking the steps that are possible to control it from a health and safety point of view.

The other glaring issue from the recent Kendall report is the pitiful lack of up-to-date data from a report that relies on data from 2001-2007. 

Governments and corporations are raking in gambling revenues by the billions, while health officials charged with ensuring things don’t get out of control are handicapped by old data. The Kendall report is based on information that will be seven years old within a month. How can a government legitimately assess the health condition of a patient if the latest information is seven years old?

This is “a huge informational gap”, according to Steve Mossop, president of the polling firm Insights West. Look at what has changed since 2007.  New gaming facilities in BC, an explosion of 24-hour online gaming opportunities such as poker and sports betting, electronic gaming machines and online bingo have all been introduced. And nationally, there is the new Lotto Max draw and a slew of new scratch-and-win tickets. The opportunities to gamble are endless.

So why, before opening new facilities or introducing new online gambling games, do we not conduct due diligence by collecting up-to-date data and base decisions on that information? As Steve Mossop says, “Seven years out-of-date statistics is not sufficient.”

Let's don't roll the dice on the health of British Columbians.

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