Gambling addictions be damned – the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation won’t be banning people from hitting its casinos.
NSGC President and CEO Bob MacKinnon vehemently defended that take on Wednesday before a standing committee on public accounts in a half-an-hour long session in Halifax, NS.
The meeting was conducted alongside members of the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) and Nova Scotia’s Department of Finance. Together, the parties oversee and ensure all forms of gambling in the province. Responsible gambling, mental health initiatives and public spending all went under the microscope.
But it was MacKinnon’s position – to not ban problem gamblers from NS casinos – that stole the show.
“We’re not skilled to diagnose somebody as a problem gambler or having problems with their gambling such that we would trigger a ban,” he said.
Nova Scotia has one of the lowest problem gambling rates in Canada
According to NSGC’s website, Nova Scotia has one of the lowest problem gambling rates in the country at 0.8%.
However, evidently, that doesn’t make the ramifications of being a problem gambling any less devastating for those impacted.
To that end, MacKinnon said there are steps in place to help problem gamblers. The Crown corporation stops short of a ban, though. Instead, it opts for “a delicate intervention.”
In MacKinnon’s world that, essentially, takes shape in a five-step process:
- Staff members must take a responsible gambling training program.
- A problem gambler will be approached by a staff member if an issue is suspected.
- Staff members may suggest a potential break(s) (if needed).
- Recommendation to on-site responsible gambling resource centre.
- Self-exclusion programs are also available.
MacKinnon: It’s up to the individual to help themselves
Standing committee members challenged NSGC to do better.
Specifically, that included Brendan Maguire – a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Halifax Atlantic. Maguire said many people – including some of his personal friends – don’t use resources until they hit “absolute rock bottom.” According to him, the steps sound good but do little to tackle the actual issue.
Couple that with an expanding online gaming market and problems are sure to remain.
MacKinnon, however, stood tall in his approach.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the individual themselves if they want to avail to that information or of that break,” he said.
ALC: Online gambling could help control addictions
Ironically, ALC said online gambling could be the key.
Some examples include:
- Weekly deposit limits
- Mandatory breaks in play
- Timer indicator for how long players have been online
- Daily wager limits
- Daily time session limits
In the end, according to Daigle, the online sphere provides much more control to the operator.
“We absolutely know a lot about those players and that’s great because we can offer them tools about their play.”
More money needed for province’s mental health issues
Finances was another topic of discussion. Some standing committee members took issue with ALC’s approach.
Namely, the province wants more devoted to the offices of mental health and addictions.
Consider Nova Scotia’s Department of Finance and Treasury Board estimated the province would pull in $146 million from ALC’s net income for the fiscal year.
Despite that, only $6 million is earmarked for gambling support services and initiatives.
Lilani Kumaranayake, the Finance Department’s executive director of fiscal policy and budgetary planning, said more is actually spent in reality.
“There have been over $150 million in investments in mental health,” she said.
Standing committee member Lisa Lachance (MLA, Halifax Citadel-Sable Island) rebutted that doesn’t all go towards people with problem gambling.
ALC posts record-setting profits in latest annual report
Regardless of the back-and-forth, the discussion comes at a critical juncture in Atlantic Canada’s gambling existence.
Simply put, business is booming out east.
In fact, ALC recently announced it had produced a record-setting $438.1 million to the four Atlantic Canadian provinces. ALC released the figures in its annual general report.
In particular, online platforms such as alc.ca flourished with net profits from online sales making up 18% of total sales in the 2021 – 2022 fiscal year.
iGaming also produced net revenue of $77 million – up $34 million from the previous fiscal year.
Thus, the meeting couldn’t have been timelier for Eastern Canada to unify in its vision moving forward.
To that end, ALC commented at the standing committee that it was working to produce a healthy play report including data usage of its resources.
Participating members in the standing committee on public accounts
Official witnesses in the standing committee on public accounts included:
- Bob MacKinnon (President and CEO, NSGC)
- Patrick Daigle (President and CEO, ALC)
- Suzanne Young (Chief Financial Officer, ALC)
- Lilani Kumaranayake (Executive Director, fiscal policy and budgetary planning, Nova Scotia Department of Finance and Treasury Board)
If punters are interested, the entire discussion can be found on Nova Scotia Legislature’s YouTube channel.
Nova Scotia has two primary land-based casinos. One is in Halifax, the other in Sydney.
Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC) owns both. But it is actually ALC who is responsible for ticket, video lotteries and online gaming (including sports betting).
Meanwhile, NSGC regulates all forms of gambling in the province.