- »Nova Scotia Gaming Dissolves Gambling Awareness Group
Nova Scotia Gaming Dissolves Gambling Awareness Group
When an organization expands gambling in a particular country or territory, it typically expands the services available to citizens with regard to gambling-related problems and assistance.
Nova Scotia took an alternate route. Within weeks of news that Nova Scotia is evaluating launching online gambling as proposed by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, the Nova Scotia government dissolved a nonprofit organization dedicated to gambling research and prevention.
Many people now want to know why.
On January 24, CBC News revealed that the Nova Scotia government “quietly” end the nonprofit Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia (GANS) organization.
Created in 1998 as the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation, members created GANS as a group connected to the government that would manage and disperse funds collected through gambling in NS. GANS distributed funds to support communities in their efforts to reduce gambling harm. Those funds came from a percentage of revenues from video lottery terminals (VLTs), and the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation matched those amounts.
GANS reported to the Minister of Health and Wellness. But recently, Gambling Risk Chairman Bruce Dienes learned that the government began working to dissolve the organization last year and changed its regulations in October 2020. The Department of Health and Wellness told Dienes that “new information” came to light linking gambling comorbidities to depression and anxiety.
On that basis, the DHW decided to share the funds previously allocated to GANS work on a wider basis. Those funds, of which $250K per year come from VLT retailers, are now moved toward a general mental health category.
Government spokesperson Marla MacInnis told CBC that GANS will become a part of the overall mental health and addictions budget. Approximately $300 million per year funds this part of the budget. She explained that problem gambling is often linked to other mental health issues. “Due to the stigma (around gambling addiction), people often initially seek help for other issues,” she said. “It’s best if people can access support that addresses these issues together.”
Not New News
Dienes took the story to CBC due to his concerns about gambling risks heightened during the pandemic. He said that people tend to be more vulnerable now, during a time of employment and economic uncertainties.
Some experts in the gambling addiction field claim that gambling harm decreased during the pandemic because of the absence of land-based gambling venues. And when some facilities did reopen, some problem gamblers simply did not return.
Others, however, say that gambling addiction doesn’t often just disappear but manifests itself into other forms of addiction or transfers to other forms of gambling.
This becomes of particular concern after recently learning that the Atlantic Lottery Corporation has been encouraging Nova Scotia to allow for the launch of online casino games to its residents. The Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation was said to be seriously evaluating the ALC proposal.
Also concerning to Dienes was, as told CBC, that he didn’t believe the reasons the DHW provided for dissolving GANS. He claimed that gambling has long been associated with other mental and addictive disorders. “The idea that this is new information is ridiculous,” he said. “We’ve known this for decades.”
Responsible Gambling Resources
The Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation offers quite a bit of information on its website.
Some key gambling stats for the territory, as of September 2020, are:
- Number of casinos: 2
- Number of VLTs: 2,012
- Number of slot machines: 922
- Number of gaming tables: 35
- Amount of gaming revenue in 2019/2020 fiscal year: $136.5M to government
- Amount of commission for VLT and ticket lottery retailers in 2019/2020: $35.5M
- Number of adults reporting gambling at least once in 2019/2020 fiscal year: 73%
- Number of adults reporting no risk of problem gambling: 89%
- CPGSI estimate of Nova Scotians with gambling problems: 0.9%
- CPGSI estimate of Nova Scotians at moderate risk of problems: 2.1%
- Amount Nova Scotians wagered on gambling in 2019/2020 fiscal year: $1.4B
(CPGSI is the Canadian Problem Gambling Severity Index.)
The list of responsible gambling resources and initiatives seems sufficient, though it is unclear how the elimination of GANS will affect them going forward.
Currently, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation offers the following:
- Responsible Gambling Awareness Week: annual at end of Sept/beginning of April
- Responsible Gambling Resource Center at Halifax Casino
- Ticket lottery retailers’ training program
- Video lottery retailers’ training program
- Casinos’ responsible gambling training program
- VLT responsible gambling features in machines
- GamTalk website with peer-support services
- Responsible gambling resource website
- Responsible gambling brochures
- Assessment program to dictate social responsibility guidelines and advertising standards
With GANS wrapped up into a larger mental health program, it is unclear how Nova Scotia will continue or consolidate any of the resources. It is also unclear if research will continue that focuses specifically on gambling addiction and problems.