ALBERTA

Alberta's New VLTs Aim To Cut Down On Gambling Problems

03/19/2013 04:56 EDT
AP
Casino industry representatives play a Ghostbusters slot machine during the industry's G2E conference, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, in Las Vegas. Slot machine maker International Game Technology is getting first dibs through a new licensing deal on developing new gambling titles based on movies and television shows owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The province is upping the ante in hopes of cutting down on the gambling.

Alberta bars and lounges will see an arrival of 6,000 new VLTs over the course of the summer, and the new generation of machines will feature new time limits and a top prize which has more than doubled.

According to the Edmonton Sun, the new machines will cost $187 million, and come at a time when most existing VLTs are reaching the end of their run.

"The lifespan of the VLTs is seven to eight years, replacement parts were no longer available and we were having to cannibalize parts," Jody Korchinski, spokesperson for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC), told the Sun.

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The new machines were purchased based on research that aims to cut down on problem gambling.

Players will be restricted to resetting the time on a machine only once before cashing out and the machines will not accept more than $100 at a time - as opposed to the existing indefinite betting amount.

Top prizes offered by machines have also doubled, reports the Sun, from $1,000 to $2,500.

AGLC spokesperson Michelle Hynes-Dawson told CBC Calgary the province is attempting to balance entertainment with deterrence methods for problem gamblers.

“To try to meet the demand of the players and the expectations of the players, but also do it in a very responsible way so we're not contributing and we're certainly preventing any gaming-related harm,” she said.

According to the Calgary Herald, this month's budget document forecasts $1.48 billion in gambling and lottery revenue for the province this year - an earning that hasn't been seen since 2008.

David Hodgins, of the Alberta Gaming Research Institute, told the Herald the province is not utilizing enough evidence-based strategies to keep gamblers within limits.

A study done for the Alberta Gaming Research Institute in 2002 found 1.3 per cent of Albertans have a gambling problem; a number that climbs among VLT players.

The AGLC currently has an opt-in program in place to allow people to get help with problem gambling. The Herald reports approximately 850 participants have signed up each year, since 2000.

The introduction of the new machines, however, won't help those with addictions, gambling expert Robert Williams told the Herald.

“We’re still going to have addiction problems with them,” he said.

Hodgins told CBC that while addiction gambling is still a concern, the new VLTs are a step in the right direction.

“Any mechanism that will interrupt play is potentially positive. So we know that some people get really mesmerized by their experience,” he said.

NDP MLA David Eggen said that if the province truly cared about problem gamblers, “they would just have fewer VLTs, instead of putting out fancy, new shiny ones.”

“If they are even spending one dime on something like this, it’s entirely inappropriate,” Eggen told Global Calgary.

Wildrose government critic Shayne Saskiw agreed, telling Global the $187 million is “an astronomical amount. Aren’t there more effective and efficient ways to curb gambling? It’s mind-boggling really.”