David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

More Gambling and Addiction for Brandon?

Brandon Sun, June 3, 2019 – David McConkey

You may have noticed the billboard on 18th Street with the message that VLT wins are random. Of course! Random reinforcement is very rewarding and encourages continued behaviour. Right now is a good time to take another look at such issues because Brandon could get a new gambling venue with the urban reserve.

I write this with a concern about more addiction in our community. Reflecting on this, I went online and re-read an excellent article from the December 2016 issue of The Atlantic: How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts.

Let's start with a few definitions. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries is in charge of VLTs (video lottery terminals) at bars and other locations in the province. (They also operate the two casinos in Winnipeg.) The Sand Hills Casino is under a different system involving First Nations and the provincial government. An urban reserve is another jurisdiction altogether, involving a First Nation, the federal government and a municipality.

I should apologize for using politically incorrect language. According to the City of Brandon, there is a “stigma associated with the term ‘reserve’.” So instead of “urban reserve,” the city requests that we say “First Nation Urban Development Area” or FNUDA. Sorry, CoB, but you need something catchier!

Why wasn’t there a referendum in Brandon like a decade ago about an increase in gambling here? Confusing, eh? An urban reserve is a new process for the city and we will learn more as time goes on. But despite protestations to the contrary, a new gambling location was almost certainly in the cards. The City of Brandon website profiles “success stories” from urban reserves elsewhere and they often involve a casino or gaming centre.

What’s the difference between a casino and an area at a bar with VLTs? For one thing, a casino has a greater variety of VLTs and other electronic gaming devices. In a casino they all are called “slot machines.”

There can be a distinction between a “casino” and a “gaming centre” regarding table games like blackjack and poker. But I am interested here in the key feature everywhere: electronic gambling. Wherever they are and whatever they are called, VLTs and their ilk can be highly addictive. Much effort has made them – the sights! the sounds! – extra alluring.

Here’s Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries on their website: “Take a seat and experience our new VLTs! They have your favourite classic games plus dozens of new games, improved graphics and superior sound.”

Everyone knows someone personally – or has read in the news about someone in the community – whose life has been devastated by a gambling addiction. Lives spin out of control when gambling takes priority over other activities and personal assets are drained. Addicts can turn to crime to get more money to feed the machines. One in five gambling addicts attempt suicide, the highest rate among addicts of any kind.

Because a new gambling venue is contemplated for Brandon, it behooves the citizenry to ask a few questions. Will some of the proceeds go to support gambling addiction awareness and treatment? Will there be prominent signage and information about addiction?

What will the odds be? All gambling places could have better information about what customers are up against. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries states that their VLTs generate random results. And random outcomes are very effective in motivating repeat behaviour. But some electronic gaming devices used in the industry are even more enticing. They are programmed to more frequently generate results that appear as though the customer “almost won.” This deception really encourages people to keep on spending.

There is another difference between a VLT at a casino and a VLT at a bar. Casinos offer loyalty cards. Most customers use them. With loyalty cards, casinos can track their customers and identify their big spenders. Will there be a loyalty card program in Brandon and how will it be used?

“Loyalty” is the most cruel aspect of electronic gambling. As much as two-thirds of the revenue is estimated to come from the 10 to 20 percent of customers who are problematic or addicted gamblers. The electronic gambling business is based on ruining the lives of its most loyal customers.

You may have heard the expression that VLTs are the “crack cocaine of gambling.” But that is so 1980s! Perhaps we would take more notice if we thought of VLTs instead as the “fentanyl” or the “crystal meth of gambling.” 
* * * *
See also: 

Drug Policies Require More Humility, Less Virtue Signaling

2008 Brandon Casino Plebiscite Result

Can We Say No to More Racism?

More Than Ever, Words and Ideas Matter

 

QUICK CONTACT:

David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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