A new provincial government plan to reduce problem gambling addresses concerns previously raised about slot machines that are designed to increase compulsive behaviour.

Fraser region home to 45,000 problem gamblers

Province pledges more action to cut gambling addiction

More than a third of B.C.’s problem gamblers live in the Fraser Health region, according to a new survey released by the provincial government.

The Problem Gambling Prevalence Study by consulting firm Malatest and Associates estimates nearly 45,000 problem gamblers – about 35 per cent of the provincial total of 125,000 – live in the Fraser region, compared to 32,600 in the Vancouver Coastal area and nearly 20,000 on Vancouver Island.

While Fraser’s share is roughly in line with its proportion of B.C.’s population, the 2014 survey also found nearly 26 per cent of Fraser residents gambled at casinos over the previous year – higher than all other regions, where the rate ran from 16 to 20 per cent.

And the survey found 2.4 per cent of Fraser residents reported borrowing money or selling something in order to gamble in the previous year – far higher than Vancouver Coastal residents at 0.4 per cent and Vancouver Island at 0.8 per cent.

More Fraser residents than the provincial average also reported feeling guilty about gambling, betting more than they could afford to lose, or felt stress or anxiety from gambling. (See chart below.)

The results point to a lower overall rate of problem gambling across B.C. – 3.3 per cent in 2014, down from 4.6 per cent or 159,000 gambling addicts in 2008.

Problem gamblers are defined as those whose gambling creates a moderate to high risk of harm to themselves or others. Another 7.9 per cent of B.C. adults are counted as being at low risk, bringing the total considered at risk to 11.2 per cent.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled a series of new commitments this month to further reduce the province’s rate of problem gambling.

Part of the plan is for an increased focus on young people under 25, who are statistically less likely to gamble but at greater risk of becoming addicted if they do.

The survey found 62 per cent of young adults gamble in some way – lower than other age groups – but nearly 26 per cent counted themselves either at risk or problem gamblers.

A responsible gambling component will be added to the physical and health and education curriculum in the school system.

Aboriginals, South Asians and the poor were also identified as high-risk groups.

At-risk or problem gamblers are also three times as likely to have had a mental health problem, according to the findings.

The province is pledging more research into online problem gambling to find ways to reduce the risks for users of playnow.com, the B.C. Lottery Corporation’s online gambling portal.

Other changes planned include placing GameSense advisors, who now offer support to potential problem gamblers in casinos, in Community Gaming Centres as well.

BCLC also plans to roll out new time and money budgeting tools to help casino patrons and playnow.com users control their gambling.

About 1,600 problem gamblers, or about 1.3 per cent of B.C.’s estimated total, are getting treatment through a provincial government program, the study found.

The province so far isn’t taking any new steps to tighten liquor access at casinos.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall in 2013 recommended either reduced hours of alcohol service or higher drink prices to reduce risks for problem gamblers, as well restricting ATM cash withdrawals.

The government said it set minimum drink pricing in all liquor establishments and the BCLC will add mandatory staff training about the cognitive effects of drinking and the jump in impulse behaviour that can result.

The provincial plan promises further study on whether slot machines can make less use of high-risk features that generate the most compulsive behaviour – another  of Kendall’s concerns – although it dismisses his suggestion of posting risk ratings on each machine as ineffective.

Commercial gaming brought the B.C. government nearly $1.2 billion in net revenue, after prize payouts and expenses, in 2013-14.

Chart of problem gambling symptoms – B.C. average vs Fraser residents

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