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Number of problem gamblers is falling, study shows

While Surrey contemplates whether to allow a proposal to install 150 slot machines in Newton, debate continues over the city’s social policy, and whether gaming addiction is a local concern.

For some time, the province has recognized that gambling addiction is an issue across B.C. and has doubled funding in the last two years to help combat the issue.

Victoria has set aside $8 million for problem gambling services this year, up from $4 million in 2006. Just last month, the province announced it was hiring nine “responsible gambling information officers” to educate casino staff and security patrols about the signs of problem gambling.

The new positions are part of a long-term plan to have the officers in every casino in the province.

A government study of problem gambling released in July last year indicates a little more than five per cent of casino patrons in Surrey will have some sort of gambling addiction. Almost two per cent of the people going to the gaming facility could be classified as “severe” problem gamblers.

In a year spanning between 2006 and 2007, the provincial gambling crisis line (1-888-795-6111) received 5,700 calls, half of which were referred to counsellors. Out of those, 1,200 sought and received further counselling for their problem.

Calls to the help line from Surrey had peaked at about 50 per month, before falling to about 25 per month last year.

The report also questioned the effectiveness of the programs.

Counsellors contacted by researchers said their clients who have tried self-exclusion (where problem gamblers have themselves barred from a casino) still find it relatively easy to get into Lower Mainland casinos.

NDP Gaming Critic Harry Lali has said the increase in funding to stem the tide of problem gambling and increasing resources is an indication of failed gaming policies in this province.

However, the report, which examined a three-year span, indicated host cities saw no substantial increase in crime. In fact, crime rates dropped in Surrey and Langley. The study also found no links to suicides or bankruptcies.

Gains from expanded gambling include about 1,000 new jobs and tens of millions of dollars in ongoing revenue for both host cities and the province.

Profit from community gaming centres, like the one proposed for Newton, is projected to soar from $108 million in 2007-2008 to $284 million by 2010, while the current $121 million from existing bingo halls dwindles to almost nothing within a couple of years.

Other cities throughout the region are in the midst of deciding whether to allow the new community gaming centres.

kdiakiw@surreyleader.com

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