05/14/2013 12:08 EDT

Alberta Gambling Addicts Account For Half Of All Gaming Revenue: Study

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - A new study suggests nearly half of Alberta's gambling revenue comes from gambling addicts and researchers say that's "problematic.''

Gambling has long been a valuable source of government revenue, used to pay for health care and education.

Research out of the University of Lethbridge shows that between 40 to 50 per cent of revenue generated is made on the backs of addicts.

Robert Williams, a University of Lethbridge researcher, says that should create an ethical problem for the provincial government.

Alberta gets 4.2 per cent of its budget from gambling, which is more than any other province.

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David Swann of the Liberal opposition says the province now has more money coming in from gambling than from natural gas royalties.

"This is unacceptable for most Albertans to be living off the backs of the most vulnerable people,'' he said.

Finance Minister Doug Horner called it "a concern.''

"The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is going to be reviewing that study as well as the many studies they receive,'' he said.

"We're always concerned when people have issues with gaming habits. We do put a lot of resources into that as a gaming piece.''

The AGLC has rolled out support for addicts at 18 casinos in the province.

"We provide the information about what the signs are so that individuals can make that decision for themselves, whether they've got something to be concerned about,'' said Anne Mohl with the AGLC.

"The most important thing is for people to be as educated and self-aware as they can be about their own gambling experience. They're the ones who know how much time and money they have.''

Critics wonder if the lure of an easy jackpot is overriding the government's concerns about the social costs at hand.

"The first thing any government needs to accept is that if a quarter to half of your revenue comes from the problem gamblers, that you're going to take a revenue hit if you're going to do anything to effectively reduce the prevalence of problem gambling,'' Williams said.

"In lean economic times, that's a hard sell to governments and it's especially problematic for government whose job is to serve the people rather than exploit the people.''