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Meeting speakers favour slots

When it comes to adding more slot machines at Chances Terrace, the economic benefits outweigh the risk to problem gamblers, according to most who spoke at a community forum held last night.

After the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC)  asked city council to approve an addition of 25 more electronic gambling machines at its Chances Terrace location — or remove the cap on its machine allowance altogether — the city hosted a public input session at the Terrace Sportsplex prior to making a decision.

Five residents spoke before a crowd of about 40 at the meeting, where mayor and council sat and listened. A letter was also read aloud.

The director of corporate social responsibility for BCLC kicked off the meeting, talking about what supports are available for those whose gambling habits cross the boundary of entertainment over to addiction.

"I wanted to focus tonight on how we at BCLC and Chances Terrace take our responsibility to provide gambling entertainment in a responsible manner very seriously," said BCLC's Paul Smith, pointing to the company's Game Sense program which operates in multiple Chances location, including Terrace, which provides information about odds and responsible gambling to patrons.

Game Sense advisers are on-site interactive kiosks.

"We have received the highest of four levels of responsible gambling certification by the 140-member World Lottery Association" said Smith. "In 2010 they also recognized BCLC for having the best overall responsible gambling program in the world."

People can also have themselves voluntarily banned from a gambling outlet through a self-exclusion program and 38 people in the area signed up from April to Dec. 2011, when 19 calls to a gambling addiction help-line were also made.

"These are just a few examples of how we and our service providers like Chances Terrace focus on responsible gambling …it really is woven into every aspect of our business," said Smith.

Next up to speak was Terrace resident Lovina Tyler, who acknowledged the strife addictions can pose for those struggling with them and those who surround them.

But, she noted there are supports available for gambling addiction as there are with other addictive substances.

"Please do not think I am not sympathetic to those who have issues," she said, adding she's had first-hand experience with some addicts close to her.

Putting on her director of Volunteer Terrace hat, though, Tyler pointed to the Chances revenues that many non-profits and social organizations use to deliver services.

And even though some groups lost gaming grant transfers from the province, as a portion of gambling profits are transferred there as well, it is possible to lobby for returned funding to groups who are operating on shoestring budgets, she said.

But the non-profit sector's dependence on gambling revenues is an addiction in itself, said local pastor Joel Ringma in a letter read aloud by city staff, adding he petitioned the city when BCLC first applied for a Chances location here.

As slot machines fuel the problem of gambling addiction, providing responsible gambling information and voluntary self exclusion are like treating the symptoms while preventing them in the first place makes more sense, he said.

But one Terrace resident disagrees.

"I firmly believe in our right as human beings to be able to make our own decisions," said Sarah Zimmerman, adding that other gambling avenues are available regardless of whether or not more machines are allowed, like Keno at the mall or online.

Zimmerman said not only is Chances a good corporate citizen but that since its opening in her neighbourhood she's noted significant improvements.

"For me, as a neighbour, I welcome this," she said, adding property values have risen as a result of work done in the area.

Terrace Community Foundation chair Sandy Glendenning noted a contribution of $70,000 made by Chances Terrace to the organization, which invests donations and earmarks interest accrued for community grants.

Heritage Park Museum Society's curator Kelsey Wiebe also spoke in favour, highlighting the tight budget with which the society operates.

She said without financial support from Chances Terrace, the museum's Canada Day event and Halloween Howl event wouldn't have been possible.

"We really appreciate Chances funding," she said.

And from the perspective of a local retailer and Chances patron, Bruno Belanger spoke of entertainment value.

He said on weekends, he sometimes enjoys playing slots, although it's becoming harder to find a machine as they're often in use.

"If that's the case right now, what's it going to be like next spring?" he said, pointing to a growing number of workers in the northwest for major industrial projects.

He added that when he's offered to take his staff out for dinner, Chances has been a popular choice.

"(I'm) totally in support of what's happening here," he said.

BCLC's proposed slot machine increase here would bring the number of electronic gaming machines at Chances Terrace from 75 to 100. Stats submitted to council by the BCLC show that on weekends seats are 90 per cent full, on average.

After last night's public forum, the topic will now come back to council for discussion and a final decision in the weeks to come.

 

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