10/07/2015 05:18 EDT | Updated 10/09/2016 05:12 EDT

Alberta's GameSense Program Aims To Stop Problem Gambling

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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States, North America
EDMONTON — Alberta is preparing to roll out a program in casinos to help people who play games of chance to gamble more responsibly.

The program, called GameSense, was developed in British Columbia and is also being used in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

It aims to teach people the difference between chance and skill-based games, the odds of winning and to gamble for fun, not for money.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission says GameSense will initially be available at 24 casinos and three horse racetracks that also offer gambling machines.

"The idea is to have players more engaged and encourage them to seek out information about responsible gambling, to steer away from any high-risk behaviours or potentially problem gambling behaviours,'' Tatjana Laskovic, a commission spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

This year the Alberta government expects to rake in more than $1.9 billion from casino gaming terminals, VLTs and electronic bingo machines.

The British Columbia Lottery Commission (BCLC) introduced GameSense to casinos in 2009 and has since expanded the program to include all forms of legal wagering, including online gaming.

Kahlil Philander, BCLC's director of social responsibility, calls GameSense a holistic program to reduce gambling-related harm.

"It has been enormously successful,'' he said from Vancouver.

"In the most recent problem gambling study carried out in 2014, the number of problem gamblers in the province actually shrank.''

The program is designed to provide information to people in a friendly way, Philander said.

B.C. casinos have GameSense advisers on hand to answer questions. Information is also available online and at lottery retail outlets. The advisers chat with about 4,500 people each month.

"The GameSense approach is a more amenable approach than has been used in the past,'' he said. "We wanted to alleviate any stigma that might be around getting information that can help.''

The messaging includes simple statements such as "Keeping it fun means playing within your means'' and "Wondering if you can win back losses by playing more? — Chances are the more you play, the more money you will lose.''

Philander said B.C. gave the program to the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments at no charge. It is also being used in the state of Massachusetts.

Paul Smith, who helped develop GameSense for the BCLC, said the program is all about effectively connecting with people in a low-key way.

"The hope and expectation is that the more that people know about gambling, the more people know about their decisions to gamble and what they can do to be more responsible, the less likely they are to develop problems,'' he said.

Laskovic said GameSense will eventually be expanded to other forms of gambling in Alberta, including lottery ticket kiosks and VLT locations.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has been reviewing proposals for the province to get into online gaming.

If the government decides to proceed, GameSense could be extended to include that form of gambling, she said.

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