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Gambling addict offers solution to self-exclusion program

North Delta resident Joyce Ross launched a lawsuit against the BC Lottery Corporation in 2010 in the hopes of raising awareness about the flaws in the voluntary self-exclusion program. - Evan Seal / The Leader
North Delta resident Joyce Ross launched a lawsuit against the BC Lottery Corporation in 2010 in the hopes of raising awareness about the flaws in the voluntary self-exclusion program.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

A Delta woman who launched a lawsuit against the province's B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) in 2010 says she has a solution to the voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) program which failed to prevent her from gambling.

Joyce Ross, a former real estate agent who lost $330,000 – including her house, business, and life savings – signed up for VSE in June 2007 at Fraser Downs casino in Cloverdale.

But she says it didn't prevent her from entering the casino.

"A few months later, I was back in there gambling," she said.

Not only did Ross play, she was able to collect her winnings, despite being in the VSE program.

The BCLC takes VSE members off mailing lists and cancels reward cards, which Ross said is a good start. But she says it fails in enforcement, because it doesn't circulate photos of gamblers who have entered the VSE program to dealers and floor staff.

What's more, photo identification is only required for winnings exceeding $10,000, since those are the ones which must be reported through Fintrac, Canada's money-laundering and anti-terrorism watchdog.

Ross suggests a two-pronged solution: Lower the threshold at which photo identification must be presented to $500, and then cross-reference the name with those in the VSE database.

Many addicted gamblers like Ross have lost tens of thousands of dollars in smaller amounts over a longer period of time, despite being in the VSE club. That wouldn't happen if casinos checked smaller winnings, Ross said.

"You're not getting your $500, and you're out the door," she said. "That would be the end of the problem."

Ross said the litigation would also stop because people would get caught early on in the program. She believes gambling addicts who enter the program are serious about quitting, but can't do it if the program doesn't work.

Two problem gamblers launched a class-action lawsuit against the BCLC in January after they were denied $77,000 in casino winnings in 2010. Hamidreza Haghdust was denied jackpots totaling $35,000 at casinos in Coquitlam and Vancouver and Michael Lee was refused a $42,000 slot machine jackpot in Duncan because they were both enrolled in the VSE program, which is designed to bar admitted problem gamblers from casinos.

That lawsuit – which is still working its way through the courts – argues it's unconscionable for BCLC to deny their winnings since it was negligent in failing to keep them from gambling in the first place, and may also constitute a breach of contract.

Ross, who launched her own lawsuit, said she began gambling when was younger but never got into it seriously until casinos began opening in the Lower Mainland.

"I wasn't a big gambler until I got addicted. And like most addicts, what happened to me was the big win."

Once she hit a $1,000 jackpot on her first slot machine, Ross felt the urge to keep playing for another one, even past the point of financial ruin.

In 2006, she realized she had a serious problem and that's what led to signing into the VSE program.

Ross said she doesn't expect any money from her lawsuit, which she launched solely to bring awareness to the flaws in the program.

"It's really important that people understand that this isn't about me recouping my losses," she said, adding the purpose is to prevent more lives from being ruined.

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