EDITORIAL: Gambling policy at odds with health

Arms-length body needed to investigate problem gambling in B.C.

The B.C. government collects significant revenue from gambling in all of its forms, yet is also responsible for protecting its most vulnerable citizens.

Such a quandary places at odds a finance ministry charged with balancing the provincial budget with a health ministry whose mandate is to not only care for the sick, but to promote wellness within the population.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s report outlining the government’s shortcomings in addressing problem gambling in B.C. raised our eyebrows. Not only did the document paint a vivid picture of how addiction develops – primarily, but not limited to fast-play electronic slot machines – it hinted at problems which may develop in the future, such as the online grooming of teens and young adults to become regular gamblers.

For as long as there have been outcomes to bet on in this province, whether it be mah-jong, horse races, 6/49 tickets or sports games, a certain segment of the population has taken that opportunity to the extreme and spent more than they should on the pastime.

For decades, the B.C. Lottery Corporation has promoted gambling in various forms, while only relatively recently adding the tagline to its ads, “Know your limit, play within it.” Clearly, the government has little appetite to distance itself from what has become a major cash cow that funds a broad spectrum of services.

The best way to solve the problem gamblers conundrum is to create an arm’s-length organization to work with the health ministry and University of Victoria-based Centre for Addictions Research to create resources and solutions aimed at reducing the effect of problem gambling on B.C. residents.

Such a group would report directly to the legislature and, in theory, be free from the political interference that tends to seep into ministry-led research or initiatives.

That B.C. lags well behind other provinces in funding prevention and treatment programs for addicted gamblers proves how low it is on the Liberals’ priority list. It’s time for the government to take its collective head out of the sand on this issue and take real steps to address this growing problem.

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