P.E.I. lifts ban on Sunday VLTs

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 21, 2014

Provincial Treasurer Wes Sheridan releases the provinces gaming strategy at a press conference Monday in Charlottetown. Guardian photo

Gamblers in Prince Edward Island who like to use video lottery terminals can now play anywhere in the province on Sundays.

Previously, VLTs could only be operated on Sundays at the Red Shores casinos in Charlottetown and Summerside.

All other machines across the Island were dark on Sundays.

But in July, cabinet approved a lift to this ban — a move Finance Minister Wes Sheridan says was done to level the playing field for licensed premises on P.E.I. that host VLTs.

“It is the norm across the country, and all three of our other Atlantic provinces do have VLT gaming seven days a week at all their locations,” said Sheridan, who is responsible for the P.E.I. Lotteries Commission.

“A number of our locations were asking for it to be lifted and allow them to play on the same playing field as the other Atlantic provinces and wanted to make sure they had the same ability to make the same profits that their competitors do.”

UPEI professor Peter McKenna has written several books on the darker side video lottery terminals, calling them the “crack cocaine of gambling”.

He has long raised concerns over governments generating revenues from gambling while also being responsible for regulating the gaming industry.

McKenna believes this extension of VLT gaming hours is nothing more than an attempt by the P.E.I. government to garner more revenues from the lottery machines.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the reason why the accessibility is being expanded is precisely because they want to tap into additional revenues,” McKenna said.

His books have chronicled some of the devastating effects VLT gambling can have on those who become addicted and their families.

Mental health issues, broken marriages, financial ruin and even suicide can be linked to problem gambling associated with these machines, McKenna said.

“I would have concern over what the impact of expanding the access to these machines would have in terms of addiction,” he said.

“It’s already creating havoc with families. I don’t see how expanding people’s accessibility to these machines is going to do anything but exacerbate or compound that problem.”

But Sheridan says measures have been taken to try to mitigate this issue, including new features installed on VLTs that remind players how long they may have been playing and how much money they have spent.

VLT addiction is an issue government is always concerned about, but only a fraction of those who use the machines become problem gamblers, Sheridan said.

“We didn’t want to impact those that game responsibly by limiting this play on Sunday,” he said.

“In the end, we decided that was the best thing to do, to level the playing field to allow the vast majority of people that do game for fun that ability to play.”

McKenna called this explanation “political spin”.

“I think when you scratch and drill down and unpack this, it’s really all about the money,” he said.

“We know that these machines are dangerous, we know that they’re destructive, we know they’re highly addictive, so anytime a provincial government tries to expand hours or increase access, to me that’s a step backward and a huge mistake.”

The only days VLT play is now prohibited in P.E.I. are Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.