Nova Scotia ombudsman report says changes needed at casinos for problem gamblers

Halifax (CP) – The Nova Scotia government proved it has a „conscience“ by accepting recommendations from the province’s ombudsman to deal with people who appear to be gambling addicts at casinos, a former problem gambler said Tuesday.

Paul Burrell of Sydney, N.S., had complained to the ombudsman that he lost his life savings at the casino in his hometown because staff there failed to intervene, as required by provincial legislation.

Burrell said he was surprised and elated with the government’s response.

„It seems like the ombudsman has really facilitated some kind of a conscience,“ he said.

The ombudsman’s final report, which closely resembles a preliminary report issued in April, found casino staff rarely removed people who appear to be addicted to gambling, as required by law.

The provincial Labour Department’s alcohol and gaming division, which regulates the casinos in Sydney and Halifax, said it will implement the recommendations and have its progress reviewed by the ombudsman within six months.

„We accept what’s in the report, we accept the recommendations,“ Bill Turpin, a department spokesman, said in an interview. „We’ll be taking a greater role in ensuring that casinos have policies that reflect regulations on problem gambling.“

The ombudsman’s recommendations call on the province to ensure casinos have proper policies in place, including a regularly updated „comprehensive training program“ to help staff identify apparent problem gamblers.

The report also recommends the province:

– Require the casino operator to keep statistics regarding the number of apparent problem gamblers excluded from the premises.

– Implement and review processes to ensure compliance with provincial legislation.

– Examine ways to improve communication with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corp., which has been involved with casino training since 2005.

Turpin said work has already begun with the casinos.

„The department expects when we have that meeting with the ombudsman, we’ll have substantial progress to report,“ he said.

Burrell, in the process of filing a lawsuit against the province in a bid to get his money back, said he believes the province will do what’s right.

„If they finally realize there’s a big problem here, that can only facilitate in helping the problem,“ he said.

The former coal miner claims casino staff encouraged him to pump money into slot machines as he wasted nearly CAD 500,000 in savings.

Burrell sought help from the ombudsman’s office after a complaint he lodged against the alcohol and gaming division was dismissed in 2004.

He was subsequently banned from the casino under the Protection of Property Act, the report says. But Burrell insists he should have been kicked out long before that.

The report stresses casinos have a „duty“ to stop people who appear to be addicted to gambling from playing games of chance.

It also found casino policy at the time of Burrell’s complaint „relied primarily on self-identification,“ in which players identify themselves as problem gamblers. They can then make a written request to be refused access to the casinos.

„It did not deal, in a meaningful way, with staff identifying an individual exhibiting behaviour evidencing a problem with gambling,“ states the 13-page report, signed by ombudsman Dwight Bishop.

„The current policy provided by the casino continues to focus primarily on self-identification.“

At the time of Burrell’s complaint, the casino was operated by U.S.-based Caesar’s Entertainment Inc.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp., based in British Columbia, took over in 2005.

According to the ombudsman, there were only eight cases of people being excluded from the province’s two casinos after staff raised concerns about their behaviour between December 2000 and February 2007.

Another 181 cases were mostly related to self-exclusion, the report says.

„In our view, there needs to be more emphasis placed on the requirement of identifying individuals who appear to be addicted to gambling,“ the report states.

„We believe that the implementation of our final recommendations will result in improvements for the general public.“