Canadian Gambling Debates around Video Lottery Terminals

A second question, asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement Òthe (province) government should do more to limit the negative side effects of problem gambling.Ó Although the question left it up to the respondent to determine what those side effects are, a total of 77% agree with this statement compared with only 14% who disagree (see Figure 9). The level of agreement does not vary significantly by region.

Combined, these results suggest that while there is division of opinion regarding the adequacy of treatments for problem gamblers, respondents recognize the need to do more to limit the side effects of problem gambling. Gambling research suggests these negative side effects can include: family and marital stress, increased crime and fraud, lower job productivity and substance abuse.

Canada’s most dramatic public gambling debates have centred on the issue of Video Lottery Terminals. Electronic gambling generates significant revenues for provincial governments, raising over $1.3 billion in net revenues for the provinces in 1998 (a value equal to between 1-3.5% of total provincial net revenues). These are significant revenues given that only 8.4% of Canadians report VLT play in the last year. Many residents and communities have taken notice of possible problems associated with generating that much revenue from such a small portion of the population. Provincial governments have responded to these concerns by capping the number of machines, allowing community plebiscites, and in some cases restricting access to the machines. Despite these steps the debate over the VLTs continues.

Prior research by CWF and others has found high public support for restricting VLTs to casinos and racetracks. The survey measured this sentiment by asking participants to agree or disagree Òwhether VLTs should be limited to casinos and race tracksÓ (Figure 10). Overall, 70% agree with restricting VLTs to gambling-specific locations such as casinos and race tracks, with nearly half of all respondents strongly agreeing (49%). Based on these data, it appears that Canadians strongly disagree with current policies allowing VLTs in bars and lounges.

A second question considered the more hard-line position of a ban on VLT gambling altogether. Specifically, respondents were asked to agree or disagree that Òvideo lottery gambling should be banned in (province).Ó On this issue, the results are split, with 43% disagreeing and 41% agreeing that VLTs should be banned (Figure 11). However, of those with a strong preference, the results favour a ban on the machines. This suggests that although the number of supporters is nearly equal for both positions, those seeking a ban on VLTs hold their views more strongly.

VLT debates have varied across the provinces, so it is to be expected that regional variations in VLT attitudes will exist (see Figure 12). Once again, respondents from the Atlantic region show a strong anti-gambling bias. Based on the strength of opposition to VLTs in the Atlantic region (at 45%, nearly twice as many respondents strongly agree with a ban on VLTs in Atlantic Canada as in Ontario and the Prairies), it is perhaps more accurate to describe the Atlantic region as anti-VLT than as anti-gambling. These data also suggest that, if the Atlantic region were to hold plebiscites on banning VLTs as Alberta and Manitoba did, many communities would reject the machines.

FIGURE 10: DO YOU AGREE THAT: “VLTs should be limited to casinos and race tracks”
Strongly Agree / 49%
Somewhat Agree / 21%
Neither / 7%
Somewhat Disagree 12%
Strongly Disagree 9%
FIGURE 9: DO YOU AGREE THAT: “the government should do more to limit the negative side effects of problem gambling”
Strongly Agree / 50%
Somewhat Agree / 27%
Neither / 7%
Somewhat Disagree / 8%
Strongly Disagree / 6%