BCLC Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over VLTs

The British Columbia Lottery Corporation is at the center of a lawsuit that is likely to garner national attention. A plaintiff filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the gambling regulator and the provincial government for offering video slots. She claims they are dangerous and addictive and violate the criminal code.

Proposed Case as It Stands

The Vancouver Sun reported late last week that Corina Riesebos of Kelowna is the representative plaintiff in a proposed class action lawsuit filed against the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) and the BC government.

The civil claim was filed in the BC Supreme Court and proposes to include anyone who paid to play real-money line games on video slots anywhere in VC from February 7, 2018 to the present day.

Video slots, also known as slot machines or video lottery terminals (VLTs), are located at casinos and gaming centers around BC. And the lawsuit claims they are “inherently deceptive, inherently addictive and inherently dangerous when used as intended.”

Further, the claim states, “They are a form of continuous gaming which differs from traditional mechanical slot machines, lotteries and other games of chance in that they are electronically programmed to create cognitive distortions of the perception of winning, which cognitive distortions are intended to keep the consumer engaged and losing money.”

Riesebos claims she had been playing these sorts of games for 20 years and in BC since 2015. But it wasn’t all fun and games.

The lawsuit claims: “Use of the video slots as intended resulted in the plaintiff and the class suffering economic losses, emotional distress and mental anguish, and other expected harms flowing from these losses and injuries, such as addiction, dependency, self-harm and/or suicide.”

Alleged Criminal Violations

While the BCLC only authorized VLTs per the law and within prescribed legal boundaries, this lawsuit claims that the video slots violate the criminal code.

The lawsuit points to Part VII of the BC Criminal Code (Disorderly Houses, Gaming and Betting), in the Gaming and Betting subsection, in Section 207 (permitted lotteries). The definition of “lottery scheme” therein is “a game or any proposal, scheme, plan, means, device, contrivance, or operation…that is operated on or through a computer, video device, slot machine or a dice game.”

Further, the law defines a slot machine that operates via “a matter of chance or uncertainty to the operator.”

Per the lawsuit, however, the video slots are “so programmed, fixed and manipulative” that they don’t fit into that definition, nor to ones pertaining to slot machines or fair games of chance.

Goals of Case Filing

The plaintiff not only requested that others be able to join the civil lawsuit, she also asked for several other outcomes from the case.

She wants a full accounting of the VLT profits from the BCLC and a “disgorgement” of some of the profits. This refers to the “ill-gotten gains” from those who profited from running afoul of the law. She also wants $1 million in punitive damages.

In addition, the lawsuit wants the court to find that the BCLC’s conduct by offering the VLT games was a contravention of the lottery schemes authorized by law.

Not the First VLT Case

The BCLC is now experiencing what the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) has been enduring for years.

That lawsuit began in 2012 with two plaintiffs suing the ALC for unlawfully profiting from VLT revenue. Douglas Babstock and Fred Small claimed the machines were inherently deceptive, addictive and dangerous “when used as intended.” That is the same language used by the BCLC case’s plaintiff.

Similarly, in that case, it was a class action claim that alleged the VLTs authorized by the ALC violated the Newfoundland and Labrador criminal code.

The ALC won their case, but the group of plaintiffs took it to the Court of Appeal, which again rejected the plaintiffs’ claims. But the next appeal took the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Atlantic Lottery v. Babcock case continues to await a final ruling. The last big news from the court came in October when the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) was granted standing in the case to intervene on behalf of and in support of the ALC and its suppliers.

VLT Future Still in Limbo

Slot games are a significant part of the BCLC’s offerings, as in other areas overseen by the ALC and other regulators.

In BC, those machines are in casinos, gaming centers, and bingo halls. They comprise a significant part of the billion-plus dollars generated for the BCLC each year by the casino games division alone.

Should a court rule in one province that VLTs violate criminal laws, it could impact every territory in Canada that uses VLTs to generate revenue. And it would spur many more class action lawsuits going forward, possibly even beyond Canada.

 

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. As the online gaming sectors have changed and grown, particularly in the United States and Canada, she has followed it all and written about it for websites like World Poker Tour and PokerScout. In her free time, she runs a small business, reads, cooks, and enjoys music.

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