Drummond Report: CAMH VP supports more access to gambling?

One has to wonder about what role Susan Pigott played on the Drummond Commission for Public Sector Reform.

Pigott is one of four appointed Commissioners.

Piggott’s day job is Vice-President Communications and Community Engagement at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

You would think, being one in four, her influence would have considerable impact on the final report. We read the Commission report expecting it would come out swinging in favour of good mental health and addictions policies.

And yet the Commission comes out squarely in favour of more access to gambling.

The Commission states the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation should “continue to seek new and innovative ways to deliver gaming in Ontario to increase its revenues,” including more lottery locations and allowing for slot machines “not co-located with horse racing venues.”

Does that mean putting them in corner stores and bars, as they did in Nova Scotia? Drummond only hints at it by suggesting greater private sector involvement — a refrain that attaches itself to much of the report.

While Drummond wants to expand slots, Nova Scotia is trying to reign in its video lottery terminals, recognizing the Pandora’s box they opened in 1994.

A decade after Nova Scotia introduced the terminals, annual average losses by VLT problem gamblers reached more than $14,000. And there were more of them – 50 per cent more. The number of Nova Scotians affected by problem gambling—including men, women and children who suffer moderate to severe financial, health and social problems, is estimated to be 120,000 in a province of less than a million people. These figures come from the regional directors of addiction services for that province.

The situation was so bad after just two years, the Nova Scotia government acted and took the VLTs out of corners stores in 1996. Later they tried slowing the speed of the machines down to limit the damage. They tried limiting hours of access. They put warnings on the machines. Now the government plans to deny any new machines licenses, hoping that as businesses turnover, the VLTs will slowly disappear from the province.

Drummond doesn’t say how much or where he would expand the location of slots. Nor does he provide a cost/benefit analysis, not that trading people’s lives for dollars is any kind of trade-off.

Like Nova Scotia, he talks about respecting social responsibility, but doesn’t say what that means.

Pigott, in her role at CAMH should know this.

Her counterparts in Nova Scotia clearly do.

The Directors of Addiction Services for the province wrote a joint letter in 2004, the 10th anniversary of the VLTs in the province.

They write: “Government’s primary responsibility is (and if it is not ought to be) the quality of life, well-being and health of its citizens, not the generation of gambling revenues.”

The say government has failed to point out what the balance is between public health and gambling, raising critical questions as to how balance will be determined, now and for the future.

So what did Pigott get in return for mental health and addiction services? It appears nothing beyond Drummond’s endorsement of the existing child and youth mental health initiative.

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