Letter to our fellow citizens continued

Some of us began playing Vlts in the mid 1990’s and within a year we were severely addicted. Once we recognized our addiction, we did everything we could to end it, including GA meetings, AADAC’s treatment program, private counselling, read books on addictions and some of us even did years of intense self-discovery. Little did we know we were only ever winning half the battle! 

There were times during those hellish years that we were able to force ourselves to stay away from the machines for a day, a week or even a few months but the constant and overpowering urge to go play never left us. We believed what everyone and everything was saying about addicts like us; that we had a disease that cannot be cured or we were to blame for losing control and not playing responsibly. For years we profusely hated ourselves for not being strong enough, or faithful enough, to quit playing Vlts and slot machines. We lived in constant shame, guilt, anxiety and depression, many of us to the point of wanting to kill ourselves as the only way out of our addiction. 

Often when we played Vlts or slot machines, we would stare at our government’s posters telling us to ‘play smart’, ‘gamble responsibly’, ‘always set a budget and stick to it’ and ‘think about how we spend our time and money’. Day after day, year after year, we severely berated ourselves for constantly failing to play that way. No matter how long or how hard we tried, we would only walk away from the machines after losing all our money and feeling like total idiots or the scum of the earth. Our behavior had quickly changed into one of a lab rat trained to continuously and excessively push the spin button on a machine, which we kept doing. We no longer recognized who we had become and no matter what we tried, we couldn’t get back the part of us that was strong, intelligent and creative. 

No one could possibly imagine, except addicts like us who will eventually find out, how duped and angry we felt when we discovered what our government’s research teams had known for years, that ‘losing control of time and money’, ‘continuous and excessive play’, ‘not being able to make controlled, informed and rational choices’ and ‘losing touch with reality’ were all COMMON and NORMAL experiences for regular players of Vlts and slot machines… that the games on these machines DO NOT FACILITATE but rather UNDERMINE the regular player’s ability to play responsibly! 

According to a study funded by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) and titled ‘Vlt Gambling in Alberta – A Preliminary Analysis’, we were by far the only players who got addicted, ‘...three out of every five respondents interviewed on-site indicated a significant degree of impaired control when playing Vlts’ (p.133). The government knew that 60% of the players were addicted and yet no one warned any of the players or the citizens about the highly addictive and deceptive features of these fundraisers! 

Anyone who researches these machines will quickly discover which came first in our Provinces - problem gamblers or problem machines? One only needs to look at what happened in other parts of the world to know the answer:

- Within 90 days of getting rid of 34,000 Vlts, the number of active GA groups in the state of South Carolina fell from a high of 32 to 16 and the membership in the active groups diminished from an average of 40 members to 1 or 2. Also the most active gambler’s hotline in the state reported the number of calls they were receiving dropped from over 200 a month to near zero. 

- In 1994, when South Dakota shut down Vlts for 3 months, the number of gamblers treated per month dropped by 93.5%. Of the gambling addicts in treatment, 97.9% were addicted to Vlts. (note that this information was known as our governments were bringing Vlts into our communities. It’s very obvious that by getting rid of the machines in our communities, we get rid of the addiction, the suffering and the suicides linked to these machines.)

We have many questions which plague us since our research, for example::  

- Why wasn’t there a social impact study done before these machines were brought in our provinces? 

What is the incentive to stop the best gravy train of all times? 

- Why are the provincial governments not forced to cover 75% of their highly addictive VLTs and slot machines with warning labels in the same way the Federal Government forces the tobacco companies to do on their packaging? 

There is however one question for which we no longer seek the answer, which is:

Who has a duty to protect and warn the citizens regarding the Vlts and Slot machines in our provinces?’  It’s pretty clear who that is!