While Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia used to allocate funds to gambling prevention and research groups, the Nova Scotia government has elected to dissolve the non-profit arm’s-length government organization.
The question arises as to why? After all, it funded gambling prevention and research groups, and moved the money to a general mental health pool. The decision to end GANS has found critics from those groups that have received grants through the organization. Now they face a looming uncertainty about whether the organizations’ work will be supported any longer.
According to Bruce Dines, chair of Gambling Risk Informed Nova Scotia,
“In the middle of COVID…isn’t there more of a need to do this prevention work and community awareness work? This is the time when people are most vulnerable.”
A percentage of VLT revenues generated funding for GANS, which was matched by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. In fact, VLT retailers provide about $250,000 annually to support mental health and addictions services.
Dienes learned of GANS’s regulations undergoing change last October. He was told by the Department of Health and Wellness that because of “new information”, there are comorbidities with gambling associated with depression and anxiety, which justifies sharing the funds more widely.
Per Dines, the idea that this is new information is ridiculous. “We’ve known this for decades,” Of note, VLTs are among most addictive form of gambling, due to the flashing lights, neon colors, and rewards.
No doubt, the province made the move to deal with the “profound lack of funding for mental health in Nova Scotia.”
Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson, Marla MacInnis, confirmed that GANS will become part of the overall mental health and addictions budget that is roughly $300 million annually. In her words,
“Problem gambling often occurs with other mental health and addictions issues.
Due to the stigma, people often seek help for other issues. It’s best if
people can access support that addresses these issues together.”
Public health protocols are mandatory in Nova Scotia. As a result of the pandemic, there were no sports games to bet on, and many casinos and bars closed. A counseling therapist based in Halifax, Elizabeth Stephen, said some of her clients simply stopped gambling.
“It was like a gift to some people that have problems that never
really get that break. Of course, that didn’t last long.”
The lockdown did not mean that problem gamblers automatically go online. After a second shutdown late in 2020, the province reopened the Halifax and Sydney casinos, video lottery terminals and First Nations gaming venues on January 8th. People who hadn’t gambled in a long time returned to VLTs because of the stress.
Thus, it became clear that public health resources are needed to minimize addiction. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation intends to expand its online casinos to Nova Scotia and P.E.I. This would allow bigger bets than in-person VLTs. It is no wonder given that revenues are declining.
Dienes said that online VLTs goes against the province’s VLT moratorium, which removes the gaming devices if a bar shuts down instead of reallocating them.
“They call them the crack cocaine of gambling. To backtrack on the
danger of VLTs and moving to amplifying them on the internet with
essentially unlimited access is appalling and totally irresponsible.”
Of note, Atlantic Lotto already launched an online casino for New Brunswick residents in August of2020. Then last month online casino was approved in P.E.I. and is now being proposed for Nova Scotia; but the proposition is still being evaluated by the Nova Scotia Department of Finance.
The Atlantic Lottery regularly consults with responsible gambling experts when developing its new products. A spokesperson, Greg Weston, believes it’s important to offer a regulated alternative to the 3,000 offshore gambling websites available to Atlantic Canadians.
“One benefit would be to repatriate players now playing with illegal
offshore providers, and by doing so repatriating money being spent
on offshore sites to help fund public services to benefit Atlantic Canadians.”
Current input and research will help determine whether Atlantic Lottery should be allowed to move to an online casino model. According to Stephen, “From my perspective, the risks far outweigh the profits…Someone has to lose for us to make money.”