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COLUMN: VLTs – the crack cocaine of gambling

Allred Ken-P
Columnist Ken Allred

"For most people, losing over $400,000 to a VLT addiction would be too devastating an experience from which to recover. Like most addicts, it nearly cost Gisele her life, her marriage, and everything she worked so hard for. She would just be another statistic, if not for the tiny seed of a thought, an ever-present nudging that told her something was not right with the machines that were ripping her life apart."

Dismissed, Gisele Jubinville

One of the positives about the restrictions being imposed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) is that casinos are being closed. Why do I say that? It is because of the nature of gambling machines and the fact that they are designed to keep participants playing until they have lost everything.

St. Albert resident Gisele Jubinville has been a strong advocate for stricter controls on these machines for years. Her book Dismissed, published in 2012, documents her struggles over the years with an addiction to problem gambling and how after losing over $400,000 she was able to kick that addiction. She has now created an organization, End Gambling Machine Suicides (egms.org), to emphasize the effect problem gambling has on suicide rates.

Gisele is not stupid, not a loser but a very intelligent woman who finally, by researching the truth about VLTs, was able to learn how the machines are designed to methodically move players from entertainment to entrapment. Research has shown that if you want to train a laboratory rat to push a button, don’t reward him with a food pellet after every push – vary the number of pushes required for the payoff. Give him a pellet after four pushes one time, 16 the next, then three, then 23. They could stretch the ratio to the point where that rat would literally drop from exhaustion.

The same method is programmed into VLTs and slot machines. Let the player win a little, lose a little, win a little more, then lose even more until they have lost everything, but in the meantime have become enticed to come back for more hoping for the big win, but it never happens. In other words, the behavior of the player has changed into one of an addict, without them even realizing what is happening to them. It’s not the player who is sick but rather the machines that are making them sick.

The end result of this addiction often leads a person to suicide after they have run up their credit cards, borrowed money and find they have no way out but to end their life. I personally knew a very smart young lady with a great job and a great future, who did just that and was in debt to over $1 million, driving her to take her own life. Tragic!

Alberta has an average of almost one suicide per week from problem gamblers yet the biggest addiction goes to the government itself. The Alberta Treasury receives over $1 billion a year from gambling, over 70 per cent of it coming from problem gamblers. But especially in these economic times with our energy revenues reduced to a pittance, do you expect the government to give up their habit? Not likely! With the closing of casinos due to the coronavirus, revenues will be down this fiscal year, but hopefully it will give problem gamblers a pause – a pause that will save their lives.

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.