01/08/2014 03:43 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Fewer VLTs in poor areas, says Quebec City public health

Video lottery terminals are harmful to people’s health and livelihood, and it’s time to move them out of Quebec City’s poorer neighbourhoods, says Quebec City’s regional director of public health.

According to Loto-Québec, VLTs across the province took in more than $972 million in 2013, making them a valuable source of revenue for the government agency.

Still, Public Health Director FrançoisDesbiens says he's not in favour of entirely banning VLTs, because for most people, they're just a game.

But for one in five players, VLTs are a problem. Desbiens says it’s not unusual for someone to blow an entire month’s rent in a few hours.

In neighbourhoods where people have less education, less social support and low incomes, Desbiens says the issue of gambling is a matter of public health.

So Desbiens is recommending that licences and machines be pulled from 18 bars in the Val-Belair, Limoilou, Vanier and St-Roch areas of the capital city.

Desbiens says studies show that moving VLTs out of the reach of people living in poorer neighbourhoods is proven to reduce gambling.

“The literature tell us that the distance influences the access. We've seen it,” he says.

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The recommendation is just one of several coming from two studies on the effects of VLTs conducted in the past year.

Desbiens also wants to program VLTs to shut down at midnight and to put more distance between VLTs and establishments’ cash-withdrawal machines.

Desbiens says it’s time for the Quebec government to come up with a province-wide policy on VLTs. He says he and other regional directors asked the government around seven years ago to develop such a policy because of the social problems these machines cause.