Public Role in Canadian Gambling

Because of the dual responsibility to operate and regulate gambling, government accountability for gambling policy has heightened importance. Perhaps the most significant measure of accountability is the use of public consultation mechanisms prior to changes in gambling policy. In Canada, these instruments of accountability have included plebiscites and referenda, public conferences, roundtable discussions, gaming review committees, and invitations for public submissions. However, only a fraction of gambling policy changes appears to be based upon public reviews or consultation.

Involving citizens in policy decisions can be costly, time-consuming and can have unpredictable outcomes. Inviting citizen feedback also involves a high degree of openness with gambling-related data sharing. As a result, we have seen only a few formal reviews of gambling policy in Canada. The survey results indicate a strong public desire for increased public consultation. Overall 84% of the sample agree (61% strongly agreeing) with the statement Ògovernments should hold public consultations before introducing new forms of gamblingÓ (Figure 7). The strength of these data indicate a clear appetite for increased government accountability regarding gambling policy.

Support for public consultation varies with age and region. While all age groups agree in general that public consultation should precede gambling expansion, those respondents aged 55 or older are more likely (71%) to strongly agree than are those 18-34 (50%). Regionally, support for public consultation is highest in BC (89% agree or strongly agree), while opposition to the concept of consultation is greatest in Quebec (18% disagree or strongly disagree.)

A distinct conclusion emerges from these data. In every region Canadians want the opportunity to decide the level of gambling in their region through public consultation PRIOR to the introduction of new gambling forms. It is reasonable to conclude that, to some degree, this sentiment reflects a degree of public dissatisfaction with the lack of public consultation on past gambling policy changes. In particular, governments have been criticized for introducing VLTs in without formal public consultations.

On one hand, governments have been entrusted with the delivery of gambling; on the other hand, they are responsible for the providing treatment to problem gamblers and developing policies that limit the addictive potential of gambling. The next series of questions explores government policy related to limiting the harm of gambling.

Perhaps the greatest government obligation involves the problem gambler. Two questions measure the extent to which governments are fulfilling this obligation in the eyes of the public. First, respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the statement Òadequate services are in place to deal with problem gambling.Ó Respondents are divided on this question; 37% agree with the statement while 40% disagree (Figure 8).

FIGURE 7: DO YOU AGREE THAT: “gov’t should hold public consultations before introducing new forms of gambling”
Strongly Agree / 61%
Somewhat Agree / 23%
Neither / 3%
Somewhat Disagree / 6%
Strongly Disagree / 5%
FIGURE 8: DO YOU AGREE THAT: “adequate services are in place to deal with problem gambling”
Strongly Agree / 17%
Somewhat Agree / 20%
Neither / 13%
Somewhat Disagree / 17%
Strongly Disagree / 22%