ALC Requests Supreme Court Dismiss VLT Class Action Lawsuit

A VLT lawsuit filed against the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) in 2012 centred around video lottery terminals. They machines are found in restaurants, liquor stores, bars, and other locations specified by provincial laws. In Newfoundland and Labrador, they are set up to offer reel games and keno, all connected to the ALC as part of its video lottery program.

Players must be 19 years of age or older to use a VLT. Players can also start as low as $0.05 denominations, and play up to $2.50 at a time.

Around 30,000 people opposed to VLTs in Newfoundland and Labrador alone file lawsuits against the ALC in 2012. So many joined in that it became a class action suit. And nearly seven years later, the case is at the level of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The latest development in the saga involves the ALC’s attempt to dismiss the case altogether.

Mesmerising Claims

The premise of the class action suit was that the VLTs are “mesmerising.” As stated in the suit: “VLTs are inherently deceptive, inherently addictive, and inherently dangerous when used as intended.” More importantly in the eyes of the law, however, is the claim that they violate the Newfoundland and Labrador criminal code. This is because they use technology to draw players in and give them the perception of winning while they lose money.

Individual lawsuits began to roll into a class action claim in late 2016 and now include around 30,000 people. Anyone who played the games after April 2006 were welcomed to join. Collectively, they want VLTs removed and players given some form of monetary compensation. The courts formally recognised it as a class action case in late 2017.

The ALC is the defendant and essentially argues that VLTs are purely games of chance. Furthermore, the courts have agreed that they are in compliance with current laws.

VLT Lawsuit Trajectory

The lower courts found most of the plaintiffs’ claims baseless. Although, not enough to keep the VLT lawsuit from climbing all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The ALC has tried to end the legal wrangling at every step by requesting dismissals. But its latest defeat in that realm came last year when the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal rejected that move. The lottery group has been fighting most recently to keep the case from being classified as a class action one. However, those claims have all been tossed out.

That won’t stop the ALC from trying it again. Its latest request is to the Supreme Court of Canada, asking that the Court of Appeal decision be reversed to dismiss the class action suit in its entirety. The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will review the case.

The Biggest Gamble of All

The Supreme Court of Canada has good reason to take up the case. VLTs have long been controversial across Canada, as many provincial governments have legalised them despite community concerns. A decision at the highest court level could have wide-ranging impact, far beyond the borders of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Many arguments against VLTs boil down to the basics of gambling and the availability of those opportunities. The prevalence of VLTs has become the primary concern of many people. This is because they are so readily available in public places with significant traffic. And as the current lawsuit against the ALC claims, the lottery terminals are more engaging, and more deceptive than traditional casino games. Or even the purchase of lottery tickets, for that matter.

Revenue is the primary driving force behind the push to keep VLTs in their locations and available to customers. All of the profit from machines go to Atlantic communities, which have come to depend on that revenue. During the 2017-2018 financial year, the ALC distributed $491.2 million to the four participating provinces, out of which $133.8 million alone went to Newfoundland and Labrador. And the ALC claims that $412.1 million in prizes went back to the players who put money into the machines in the first place.

The retailers also benefit from VLTs. The 2017-2018 year saw them rake in $134.2 million in commissions, split accordingly among nearly 4,000 retailers. It helps small businesses bring in additional revenue, not to mention customers who make other purchases while there to play.

Should the Supreme Court accept the VLT lawsuit and rule for the plaintiffs, VLTs could be in jeopardy across Canada.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen


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