MADAM CHAIR: Good afternoon. Today we have one item on our agenda. Just before we open up the discussion with Porter Dillon Limited, for members of the committee, for your information, it is probably obvious that the contract has now been awarded and all of the details of awarding that tender were handled through the Public Tenders Office. That was all taken care of, and I would like to thank the staff there for dealing with that so promptly after the decision was made. If members of the committee will remember, the proposal that we had was that at the beginning of the research process there would be a meeting with the consultants, and this is actually the purpose of our meeting here today. I am going to open the floor and we will get started. We have until 3:00 p.m.
MR. JOHN HESELTINE: I am John Heseltine, just to remind you, and this is Kerry Chambers. I am with Porter Dillon and Kerry is with Sterling Research; Kerry is providing us with some support. A bit of time has elapsed since the arrangements for the contract, and so on, were made, so I do want to point out that we are going to change a little bit from what we had in our proposal, where at this initial meeting our intention was just to sort of generally discuss the issues as a starting point. Since we have had some time, we have taken advantage of it to do some of the background research that we outlined in our proposal.
On that basis, we have produced an initial report which we will hand out today. Of course, nobody is going to have the time to read that report for this meeting, so I will do a quick presentation to outline the key points that we have developed here. This is nearly entirely based on secondary research, reading of books and articles in relation to this issue. We have started on an interviewing process, but we are just in the initial stages of that. I have labelled this as a Draft Issues Report, which was intended to be delivered at the conclusion of Phase I.
Subject to the comments and our discussion today and the interviewing process we have planned, we will finalize this report; it is not final at this point and will be subject to some change based on further information. The study that we are undertaking is a socio-economic impact assessment of video lottery terminals in the Province of Nova Scotia. Our goals are to look at costs and benefits, essentially, of video lottery terminals. I thought it was worthwhile to start off by kind of setting a foundation as far as how video lottery terminal machines work, because for one thing, I know myself, my understanding of it was pretty sketchy when we started out. I found a considerable number of people who are involved in studies of this type even are not really informed of the workings of the machines.
We were given some videos - I guess they were news reports that were on ATV - by the Gaming Authority and I noted in there that there was a discussion of the machines and the programming and so on in which they kind of implied that they were kind of remarkable works of programming. I think it is worth noting that, in fact, they are not. They are extremely simple machines and probably my $30 wristwatch has as much or more computing power than the average VLT machine. The graphics are quite straightforward and really your average computer game for children is a considerably more complicated piece of software than a video machine is.
Generally speaking, there are two games offered on the machines, a version of poker and a game which essentially emulates a slot machine. Essentially the machines are the equivalent of slot machines in the way they operate. From a programming point of view, they operate on the basis of a random numbers generator, which is just an inherent thing in all computer chips; all of your video games and so on are basically run off the same capability. They are programmed to provide a certain percentage pay-out, and by law in Nova Scotia, that is 80 per cent. An interesting thing is that the machines, according to statistics, pay out a lot better than that; they pay out about 95 per cent. I think, Kerry, that would reflect, I guess, if you played 100 times, you would win at a rate of 47 or 48 times in each 100 plays. You have about a 50/50 chance or a little less than a 50/50 chance on each bet and that slightly less bit is the margin that goes to the operator or the owner of the machine.
One of the further interesting things is that statistics for the province show that 70 per cent is paid out in winnings on the machine, so the way that people play the machines results in a yield that is way below what would be expected if they simply came in, played five times and left, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. This seems to be attributable to the fact that people either take a specified amount of money and play until that money is gone - it is kind of the cost of playing the machine - or perhaps in more serious situations where people just continually play in the hopes of winning a large prize or a bonus from the machines.
Nova Scotia doesn't rank particularly high in the number of VLTs in the province. Of the eight provinces that have VLTs, we rank sixth. The revenue that the province gains from gambling on the whole is close to the Canadian average. All of the provinces now have some legal gambling options. Nova Scotia obtains 3.1 per cent of its revenue from gambling and
that is very close to the average among provinces that allow gambling, just slightly more than the average actually, but even though the number of VLTs we have is not particularly high, our revenue is quite high from video lottery terminal machines. The province gets about 1.6 per cent, or about one-half of the gambling revenue is obtained through video lottery machines which indicates, I guess, that they are relatively popular and relatively heavily played in Nova Scotia.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Does that mean third in terms of dependence on revenue or does that mean third in terms of revenue generation?
MR. HESELTINE: In terms of revenue generation there are just two provinces, Alberta and Manitoba, that get a larger proportion of their their total government revenue from video lottery terminals than Nova Scotia does.
MADAM CHAIR: Can I interrupt for a moment to remind members for the Hansard, because the meeting is recorded, can you speak into the microphones and identify yourself, or whatever. Thank you.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Madam Chair, can we back up for a second then and look to our agenda for the meeting? Are we departing from our agenda?
MADAM CHAIR: No, we're not departing. This is our start-up meeting with Porter Dillon and Stirling with respect to the VLT study.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Is that all there is to it?
MADAM CHAIR: That is all there is to this.
MR. MACEWAN: What happened to the briefing concerning the report on social assistance reform at 3:00 p.m.?
MADAM CHAIR: That is not occurring. This is what we are doing today. We don't have enough time to deal with two matters so we're going to be dealing with the VLT study.
MR. MACEWAN: I have no difficulty with that, Madam Chair, but on a point of order, this was officially circulated as the agenda for today's meeting. It was addressed to all members of the committee. It is not signed but it comes from this office and it was sent out, dated January 21st, and now we're here, January 21st, and there's another agenda. I would like to know, when did the committee, by majority vote, decide on that change in agenda?
MADAM CHAIR: What occurred, Mr. MacEwan, is that that agenda was sent out prior to the clerk being informed that, I believe, your caucus is meeting at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, and because that was the case we could not proceed with two agenda items of such
magnitude so we have the meeting scheduled and we're dealing with this. So can we just proceed and the other matter will be dealt with at another meeting.
MR. MACEWAN: When do we get to find out or decide when that other meeting will be?
MADAM CHAIR: We do it in the same fashion as we've been meeting all along, which is the clerk to the committee consults with each of the caucus offices, and the schedulers within those offices, to find a common time that members are available to meet.
MR. HESELTINE: The key objective for us in this meeting and in this phase of our study is to essentially set out what the issues are, what the pros and cons effectively of VLTs are. So in the third section of our report we have outlined as best we can the common arguments, both for and against, and one of the things I want to point out, which we've put in bold at the beginning of that chapter, is that the arguments that we're presenting on either side, for or against, are not necessarily arguments that we endorse. We're just trying to outline essentially what the general discourse on this subject is.
Certainly one of our objectives today too is to discuss with you the issues as you see them and perhaps to expand that list in relation to issues that are in your minds, but in any case VLTs have been something of a focus of opposition to gambling. Of course, there are some people who are generally opposed to gambling but VLTs, in particular, opponents to gambling have concentrated on and the statistics show that public disapproval, or concern with VLTs, exceeds concern with other gambling options such as casinos and so on.
One of the key reasons for this appears to be a belief that people believe that the machines are particularly geared to people with gambling compulsions or problem gamblers, that the pattern of play, and so on, is attractive to people who are compulsive and that certain people, once they get on the machines, will continue on them for extended periods of time, losing considerable amounts of money. Essentially the statistical background to that, according to research which I believe was done by Kerry's company, Sterling, indicated that 70 per cent of Nova Scotian adults in responding to that survey - which was over 1,100 adults - saw no positive purpose for VLTs and among the various gambling options, that was certainly the highest; casinos were second at 48 per cent, seeing them serving no positive purpose. So there certainly is a public concern about them.
This is founded on a belief that they attract people who can't afford to play, that the compulsive nature of them leads to a variety of problems such as indebtedness, bankruptcy, family breakdown and suicide. Now, those kinds of problems to some degree people perceive with all the gambling options, but their responses to survey questions seem to indicate that the greatest concern is with VLTs, that people believe that their relationship to those kinds of issues is stronger.
There is concern, obviously, with expenditure of public money for problem gambler rehabilitation, which especially connects that feeling that VLTs are especially attractive to the problem gambler. There have been concerns raised with the general diversion of monies from charitable gambling by legal gambling options and also some considerable support, I guess you would say, for the exercise of a local option with respect to gambling in Nova Scotia, and that would particularly pertain to VLTs because the casinos are in only two localities within the province.
On the other side of the issue are arguments for legalizing VLTs. One of the key reasons for legalizing the machines was that they existed illegally before, I guess since 1992 when they were introduced as a legal option and there was definite concern with that practice. By legalizing them, of course, it is possible for the government to tax them and obtain that 1.6 per cent of revenue which is derived currently from VLT play.
If machines are not legal in Nova Scotia, there is a growing number of options outside of the province in relation to legalization. New Brunswick and Newfoundland had legalized VLTs before Nova Scotia did. There have always been options outside of the province in terms of places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and in the last few years there has been considerable growth in Internet gambling which represents an option if legal VLTs are not available in the province. There is also a belief that VLTs create jobs less than the casino but, the feeling from responses to surveys, more employment benefit than is associated with bingos or lottery ticket sales.
Finally, an argument for them is simply that many people do enjoy playing VLTs, and certainly those people who are supportive of providing that option simply feel that is a purchase decision made by individuals who play. It is their right to do so and they should be permitted that option for something that, in that perspective, is essentially a victimless practice, recognizing, of course, that there are alternative feelings about that.
With respect to the issue, our studies arising from Bill No. 17, which is a moratorium on VLTs, as we see it, there are a range of possible options to responding to the VLT issue. If it is perceived to be a significant enough problem, one of them certainly is to ban VLTs and go back to the previous situation where they will be illegal in the province. A second option is to reduce the number of VLT machines and/or the locations in which they are permitted. There has already been a step in that direction by restricting them to licensed premises. It is conceivable that they might be restricted further to certain licensed premises that meet some standards or other.
There is work under way at Dalhousie, I understand, in relation to looking at the machines and their operation. This particularly goes to the feeling that the design of the machines is attractive to compulsive or problem gamblers and that possibly features of the machines can be altered so that they are less attractive in that respect, possibly playing slow or possibly playing in a different way that won't be so attractive to certain people.
Another option would be to limit play in some means. ATM technology, and so on, exists and it is conceivable that people could be limited in the amount of money that they could play on a machine or that their pattern, in some way, could be tracked, and in relation to that their access to machines could be limited when some set criteria were met. A final possibility would be to simply educate the public about the operation of the machines, some of the issues about the prospects of winning and intelligent practices in terms of how to play and limit the possible negative consequences of playing VLT machines.
Obviously, banning machines or reducing access has both good points and bad points. Among the negative consequences, however, is the potential loss of the revenue that the government gets from VLT machines, that 1.6 per cent; possibly not all of it, because undoubtedly that expenditure would go to other areas, some of which would be subject to tax. It may not achieve the desired end though if all that happens, because people who are VLT players shift to other forms of gambling and certainly there is a strong indication in the information available that people who play VLTs do indulge in other forms of gambling more than the average individual or other individuals. So it seems very likely that there would be a tendency for that to happen.
There is also the possibility that there might be a shift to other activities which might be seen as even less desirable than gambling - alcohol or drugs are possibilities - and, again, that relates to the fact that there is an indication that there are codependencies between people, particularly problem VLT users and other types of habitual behaviours.
Finally, a significant concern would be the potential of the re-emergence of illegal VLT operations. Certainly those people who were using illegal machines before, one might expect they would go back. There is also a conceivable potential that some people have been exposed to VLT machines in the legal environment and like them, and would look for the opportunity again if VLTs became illegal.
Actually, I probably should have put on there that there's also the possibility that people might look at offshore options, like going to New Brunswick or going to the United States or accessing the Internet to continue to gamble, all of which would have consequences for the economy in Nova Scotia.
The possible positive consequences of banning or reducing VLT exposure in the province, and I think the most hoped for consequence among those people who would like to see it banned, would be that that money would be redirected to desirable purposes. There is a concern that people are spending the family money on VLTs and it could go to better requirements like food and clothing and so on. So there is reason to hope that if VLTs were banned, that that expenditure would go to a more positive purpose.
It would conceivably reduce the need for rehabilitation of problem gamblers. There would be less exposure to the machines, and machines do seem to have more of an attraction to the problem gambler than some of the other gambling options and obviously to the extent that social problems exist in relation to VLT machines, banning them would presumably reduce those social problems.
That is roughly the summary. There is considerably more detail in the report and we would certainly be interested in the members of the committee reading through the report and giving us comments on the details of it. We see eventually some of that material being part of the final report. That is one of the reasons we have a chapter in there on the operation of VLTs, because we see perhaps a wider circulation eventually than just to the committee. The research that we are going to be doing in the subsequent phases of the study, specifically Phases II and III, will detail a lot of this.
I do want to emphasize that at this point we are just presenting a preliminary outline of the issues, and the research that is intended in this study is going to hopefully add some harder information in relation to some of those concerns. So certainly some of the arguments, pro and con, require more research. Certainly with respect to assumptions about impact on the economy and so on, that is the goal of our work, to attempt to get a better definition of what those impacts are. Kerry and I are both here to answer any questions.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. We will open it up then for questions. Who would like to start? Mr. Scott.
MR. MURRAY SCOTT: I apologize for being late.
MADAM CHAIR: Not a problem, I was late myself.
MR. SCOTT: My name is Murray Scott. I am the member for Cumberland South. I guess you may have touched on it a little bit there but something has come to my area that has been recognized by people, particularly the legions. A lot of these dollars that are being put into VLTs are dollars that families do not have. I do not believe for one moment that if the VLTs were not there, that none of that money would be spent on alcohol, or drugs, or some other form of gambling, but I think a lot of it would not be and it would be spent within the community. Was any thought given to what impact it has on the community? Where 65 per cent or 70 per cent of the dollar ends up in the government's hands as opposed to if those VLTs were not in place, most times 100 per cent of that dollar would be spent within that community, particularly small communities in Nova Scotia. So was there any thought or any consideration given to that aspect of it?
MR. HESELTINE: Our research program down the road, in relation to focus groups that we have planned, is to try to get a handle on what the likely expenditure pattern will be for people who are denied legal access to VLTs if some restriction is placed on them. It is our
responsibility then to take that information and actually calculate how the alternative spending pattern would impact on the Nova Scotian economy and obviously dependent upon what we might expect people to spend that money on, it will have a different level of impact on the economy, and could, in fact, result in greater revenue to the government, dependent upon how the money is spent and how it circulates through the economy, which is something we can model with the provincial input-output model.
MR. KERRY CHAMBERS: I would just like to break in and state that the Focal Research video lottery study has been made available to me and I have only briefly been through it, but there is a wealth of information in there that we will be able to look at, urban versus rural, expenditures and a number of other factors. It is extremely detailed in terms of entertainment and other expenditures that are made by both non-players and casual players and regular players.
MR. SCOTT: We are quick to say jobs are created as a result of VLTs, but I also think there is a negative side, that jobs are lost in the retail sector, whatever, as a result of dollars not being funnelled through those avenues any longer but being lost through gambling and back to the province. I would like to see particularly what effect it has on the community as a whole.
MR. HESELTINE: Fair enough. I do know that the model that we are using, the input-output model, relates to the provincial economy, we won't be able to give you local detail on Cumberland County or any sub-area of the province, but it is an objective of the study to assess how that change in expenditure patterns will work its way through the economy. I agree with you that a dollar spent is not equivalent in its effect in all cases.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Not too long ago, the government announced findings of a report with regard to gambling in Nova Scotia. What information will you generate that will be substantially different from what is contained in that document, or will you be looking to that document for some of the information that you will consolidate in your report?
MR. CHAMBERS: Several reports have now been released.
MR. BALSER: About three months ago, there was an announcement with regard to the percentage of people who were involved in gambling. I am not all that familiar with it, all I know is what was reported in the paper with regard to the report, I think maybe two or three months ago. Maybe I am not well informed.
MR. CHAMBERS: There have been several reports. There is the Alcohol and Gaming Authority's Annual Report, in which there is a lot of detail as to participation in various gambling activities and opinions and what not. There are also past reports from the Alcohol
and Gaming Authority, of Department of Health statistics of problem gamblers and what not, percentages that play VLTs, and so on and so forth. And there is the video lottery study that I referred to conducted by Focal Research, which is probably the most extensive study undertaken yet in the world, I believe, on electronic gaming machines.
We will be using all of that information and we will also be using the focus group method. We intend on holding three focus groups here in metropolitan Halifax - one group with problem VLT players, people who we identify as having a problem with their play, which I have conducted before; one group with regular VLT players, who are not considered problematic; and one group with non-VLT players - to determine what kinds of impacts these activities have on their lives; particularly with the problem players, what they would do if VLTs were removed, what they did before VLTs were here, and so on and so forth.
We also intend on doing three groups in New Glasgow. The reason New Glasgow was chosen is because, first of all, it has one of the heaviest VLT plays in that sector. Secondly, it is the furthest away from either casino and it is very close to the New Brunswick border, so we want to see that if people can't get to either casino, would they go to the New Brunswick border, would they stop gambling, would they start playing bingo, what would they do?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Wouldn't they still be gambling?
MR. CHAMBERS: If they are playing bingo, absolutely. Yes.
MR. HESELTINE: Let me just add a little to that. There is a lot of research, as Kerry has pointed out; the annual reports of the Gaming Authority consolidate most of that Nova Scotia research. What this study will be looking at that hasn't been done in any of the work to date, is to look specifically at VLTs and specifically at what their impacts are, so that there is a foundation for understanding if any further decision is made pursuant to Bill No. 17 with respect to VLTs, what that effect is likely to be.
MR. CHAMBERS: If I could just interject once more, we will also be looking at other jurisdictions. I have reports from New South Wales in Australia, for example, about what are called EGMs, electronic gaming machines, and social impacts there and what not. We will be looking at a broad base of research and trying not to reinvent the wheel while we are doing it.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye and then Mr. Charles MacDonald.
MR. JERRY PYE: Jerry Pye, Dartmouth North. I just want to make a general comment. First, I believe back in the fall, the Province of Alberta allowed, through the municipal elections, a proposition to be placed on the ballot. The proposition on the ballot suggested that those communities who chose not to have VLTs in their community would be
able to at least present that view through the municipal elections. I guess it was surprising to find out that despite all the talk that occurred and happened with respect to banning VLTs in Alberta, that in fact only one community, I believe, actually supported the banning of VLTs in the Province of Alberta. My question to you is, when you do make a recommendation, if it is a recommendation that VLTs be banned in the Province of Nova Scotia, will you be placing the jurisdiction on how that is done and how one goes about that?
I have two questions. The other question is with respect to, and I think I have read this, to limiting the number of plays in economically depressed regions, and I believe that we have an example here in Canada in Goose Bay, Labrador. At one time, I do believe, people on fixed incomes who were receiving cheques by way of the government were, in fact, gambling all their money away, and as a result of witnessing the impact of what was happening there, they restricted the amount of pay-out that could be played on these machines as well as the amount of dollars, the maximum play that one could make.
In that particular case, I believe the maximum play was four, which represented a bonus credit play, and the maximum pay-out would be equivalent to that so that the individual would not be, even if they spent the entire day there, losing their money. My question to you is, and you have already touched on that, is that the way in which you would make your presentation as well, with respect to that recommendation?
MR. HESELTINE: With respect to the first question about local options, first of all, I would say that when we were interviewed, I guess it was in November, we did say that we wouldn't be making recommendations, as such, as a result of this study. The purpose of the study is to provide information to the committee for the committee to decide what recommendations should be made. There is information from existing surveys, actually one piece of evidence which I included on the overhead there, about the support of that particular approach in the province. I guess you would say that essentially that is supported in the province, to give individual communities the right to make their own decision with respect to VLT machines.
We will try to give you the information that will allow you to decide whether or not you feel it should be done at the provincial level or at the municipal level as far as that is concerned. I don't know if you would have anything to add as far as that is concerned.
MR. CHAMBERS: Not the first one.
MR. HESELTINE: The second one is related to the playing characteristics of machines which, again, we won't be recommending as such one way or the other where to go, but we will be discussing some of the options that are available. I think Kerry is a lot more knowledgeable in that area.
MR. CHAMBERS: Just one thing that I would like to state, when looking at alternatives for play, I think it is generally believed - and the Focal Research report, from what I have read, seems to back that up - that problem players account for the majority of both the social problems and the revenues that are pumped into VLT machines. When you start playing around with the alternatives in the play, you have to be very careful as to what you do because it then becomes the problem players may decide to look for other venues where those particular alternatives are not in fact present, and I am talking about illegal establishments. In the Focal Research report, they indicated that 3 per cent of the problem players were in fact playing at illegal sites, so they are still in Nova Scotia. The RCMP, to my knowledge, come across some occasionally. They are few and far between right now, but they still do exist.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Do I understand from the reports that basically it is 1 per cent of the population that is in the problem area?
MR. CHAMBERS: It would be, with margin of error excluded, because it is a statistic. I think it is .92 per cent, yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: So .92 per cent, so less than 1 per cent of our population is in that problem area.
MR. CHAMBERS: According to the Focal Research study, 16 per cent of regular VLT players, people who play four times or more per month were found to display problematic play behaviour.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Have you identified or have you cross-referenced that to poker players, to horse tracks, to bingo games? Do we have similar figures in those fields, as to the type of population that is at risk?
MR. CHAMBERS: There are similar figures. I guess the one thing that I could state fairly reliably is that most problem gamblers do not just gamble on VLTs, they are consummate gamblers.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: They have their range.
MR. CHAMBERS: Yes. Now some of that has been brought out in evidence that has been done in survey work, and it is being further probed but, generally speaking, the higher the wagers go with VLT play, the higher the wagers go in all other activities, whether it be bingo or lottery tickets, et cetera.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We have roughly 30 per cent of the population that plays the machines over the course of time. Is it 30 per cent, my understanding, or somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent of the population that . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: Approximately 25 per cent, I would say.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: So what we can say is somewhere between. You are saying up to 15 per cent of the group may have some problem tendencies or tendencies to overplay the machines or whatever, but there is a large segment of the population who play them for entertainment purposes?
MR. CHAMBERS: Yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Normally if you have $100 and you choose to go out for a night, how you spend your $100 when you go out for that night is a basic choice that you make going out. You may spend it on the machines or you may spend it somewhere else, but it is a choice that is made by that group when they go out for the evening.
MR. HESELTINE: Yes. That is definitely an argument that is made in favour of them, and certainly the majority of the people who play them would not fall into the problem category and it would just be an expenditure choice.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Then we have 70 per cent of the population that says they might not want this in their community. I take it that 70 per cent is the 70 per cent that doesn't participate in the process?
MR. CHAMBERS: That is quite true. Most people who are against VLTs do not play them.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Do they go to bingo games or horse races or poker games or . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: Well, they would buy lottery tickets at least.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: They would buy lottery tickets, okay. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: The information here on Focal Research video lottery study, in terms of behavioural, 6 per cent of the VLT players agreed that their play has put a strain on their relationship at home. That was one focus group, is that correct?
MR. CHAMBERS: Six per cent of the problem players.
MR. MONTGOMERY: They said it put a strain on their relationship at home, right?
MR. CHAMBERS: Yes.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Now, was that offset with another focus group that did not play VLTs?
MR. CHAMBERS: I am not sure I understand the question.
MR. MONTGOMERY: If it relates to one focus group who play, surely there has to be a comparison with . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: This was not a focus group, if that is what you are saying.
MR. MONTGOMERY: How did they come up with this 6 per cent, this is what I am trying to find out?
MR. CHAMBERS: The Focal Research study, they initially interviewed 11,000 households to determine how many VLT players were in each household. They then created an enormous sampling frame, and they sampled, I believe 711 regular video lottery players from that sampling frame. It was an enormous survey, and it is extremely accurate in . . .
MR. MONTGOMERY: But what I am saying is you may have done that with people who play video lottery machines, but what about those who do not? You have to compare within society those who do and those who don't. You may very well find that 6 per cent of people who do not play video lottery machines have a strain on their relationship at home, in terms of behavioural characteristics.
MR. HESELTINE: I think in fact the nature of the question is such that it really only applies to people who are VLT gamblers, and I would be quite certain that more than 6 per cent of people have pressures on their family relationships for one reason or another. The question really just says that 6 per cent of those people who were in that sample attributed some family problems that they had directly to that.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Unless you compare it to something, it doesn't really mean anything though, really. It is the same with all of these in that category, or most of them at least. The player stated they missed time from school or work, things of that nature.
MR. CHAMBERS: I am not certain who we are speaking with here.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. CHAMBERS: Mr. Montgomery, I can assure you that when we do present any statistics or anything of that nature that it will be as balanced as possible.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I just wanted to know, because unless it is compared with something else . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: The Focal Research study, as I said I have only initially had a peek at it. I don't know if you have seen it, but it is a book about this thick. We will be going through it very carefully. If your concern is for us to compare VLT players to other gamblers, that is something that I don't believe was outlined in the proposal.
MR. MONTGOMERY: That is fine. If it isn't, that is fine too. But to come out with statements or percentages related to people who play VLTs in itself isn't sufficient to really clarify the issue.
MR. HESELTINE: I would say, just with respect to that particular piece of information, what you really need would be the general population, what rate of family problems did they have versus what sort of general rate of family problems exist within this particular group. Actually the way that question is asked is specific to that group and specifically asks if this particular practice that you undertake, does it create family problems which you might just as well ask about people who like to fish or play golf or something.
MR. CHAMBERS: That was not 6 per cent of the VLT players, that was 6 per cent of the 16 per cent who had a problem.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments?
MR. MACEWAN: If you are inviting them, I will put my name on the speakers' list.
MADAM CHAIR: You have the floor, Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: Gentlemen, I don't know what to make of all this. I take it that you are not seeking to make any particular recommendation at all but just to thoroughly examine and analyze the subject, that is your purpose?
MR. HESELTINE: Yes, certainly with respect to the specific issue of what are the likely consequences going to be if a change is made with respect to the availability of video lottery terminal machines in Nova Scotia.
MR. MACEWAN: They are available now.
MR. HESELTINE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: So the only thing you could do is recommend that they not be available if you want to make any change in the status quo, unless you seek an expansion, but you are not going to make such recommendations, I take it? You are not here to make recommendations of that type, you are just here to examine . . .
MR. HESELTINE: Well, we would be providing you with information as to what the consequences would be. Obviously, if some change is made, it will have some impact, for example, on the revenue that is collected by the Province of Nova Scotia. The tools are available to . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Well, that would be only one aspect but in the broadest sense the duty of government is to respond to public needs, I should think, and that is a very difficult thing to define. You are talking about something that exists right now in Nova Scotia, an existing established industry, which I would think is more of an amusement than anything else because it is something that people do on a night, going out, I would think in most cases. You could go to the hockey game and pay $16 for a ticket and that is a dead-weight loss. You probably pay another $16 for eats and souvenir programs and what not, or you could go to the casino and you could spend $20 for the night and according to this - I never realized this before, but it says - you could get maybe three-quarters of that amount back and the net cost would be $5.00 for a night out.
MR. HESELTINE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. It does, seriously. I do not know what a VLT is. I have never seen one. I have never played one. The only amusement machine that I have ever played very much was the pinball machine and that was probably my generation's equivalent of these things today.
MR. HESELTINE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: But in any event, if it pays back 75 cents on the dollar, that is a pretty good deal. I know that the 25-hole pinball machines certainly never paid back 75 cents on the dollar. Gosh, you were lucky if you got $5.00 once in a month maybe, Charlie, would you say, on those machines?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: And you are saying that these machines pay back 75 per cent. That sounds like a pretty good deal. I think if you are going to say that that should be taken away from the people as a form of amusement as compared with other forms of amusement, and you were talking about fishing. Well, I know a lot of fellows go fishing for a whole day and they don't catch one fish.
MR. HESELTINE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: So if you are making a comparison with other forms of amusement, this does not sound all that bad to me.
MR. HESELTINE: I would say, in fact, we are not making a comparison with any other form of amusement. I agree with you in the sense that VLT gambling and other forms of gambling for the most part are pursued by people as a form of entertainment. As I understand it, there is public concern with the particular consequences that some people certainly associate with their play. So the issue for us to determine is, what would the most likely consequences be of withdrawing that option, and certainly that is done by our government with respect to a lot of things that the majority of people feel have a negative consequence, recreational drugs would be one.
MR. MACEWAN: I do not quite understand the connection between these machines and what did you call them, recreational drugs?
MR. HESELTINE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: What is that? I never heard of those. Most drugs that I know of are not recreational.
MR. CHAMBERS: Alcohol would be one.
MR. MACEWAN: Alcohol.
MR. HESELTINE: What I mean to describe are drugs that people take for non-medical problems.
MR. MACEWAN: You do not get 75 per cent back when you buy a bottle of booze.
MR. HESELTINE: Anyway.
MR. MACEWAN: I do not know, gentlemen, I am not trying to belabour the obvious here. It does not seem to me that this is the greatest evil in society today. I never thought about it before. I have never paid any attention to those machines. I see people playing them sometimes. The types of places where they have them I think are taverns, are they not?
MR. HESELTINE: Licensed premises, yes.
MR. MACEWAN: I do not go into the tavern, I am sorry, so I am not familiar with these machines but what I have seen and heard here today does not convince me that this is the greatest evil in society that the power of government should be addressed to. It does not at all. It seems like a relatively harmless and benevolent amusement.
MR. CHAMBERS: I would caution you that this is the initial meeting and we have yet to even begin our research or examine any of the arguments or facts that are out there.
MR. MACEWAN: I think if I was a manufacturer of these machines, whatever they are, I wouldn't mind having you fellows on my sales team, because you make a good case for them.
MR. HESELTINE: Thanks. In fact, if we convinced anybody in here to go one way or the other on this, we would have failed at this point, because in fact we are trying to be objective in our examination of the issue and we have several more steps to come to. I keep on insisting the provision of information, without particularly pointing you in a particular direction, as we said at the outset, the committee and the Legislature are the elected representatives, and it is not our position here to decide what should be done. We will just provide the information on which to base the decisions.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: It goes beyond that. I think it is very incumbent upon ourselves, maybe more so than you people, to understand that 1 per cent of the population is the problem area that we are talking to. How much time we choose to dwell on these matters for that 1 per cent of the population, at the risk of basically the other problems that are out there in society today, says a large amount for our committee, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: It is not our role to be argumentative with the consultants.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We are not being argumentative here. I wasn't arguing with them. I was looking at ourselves and our role. When we are looking at 1 per cent of the population, which we are talking to today, that has a problem with gambling of all forms . . .
MADAM CHAIR: With all due respect, we probably should have made these arguments, if that was how we felt, in the House of Assembly at the point at which we all . . .
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Or we could have had them here before we got into this meeting today.
MADAM CHAIR: . . . voted to proceed with this study. This study has been commissioned as the result of a piece of legislation adopted unanimously, which includes the vote in the affirmative by every member of this committee including yourself. So at this point . . .
MR. MACEWAN: We didn't vote to deny ourselves free speech.
MADAM CHAIR: No. I am not saying anything about free speech, I am just saying that we are not here to be argumentative with the consultants, following the passing of that legislation.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Madam Chair, I don't believe that I was argumentative with the consultants, I was reflecting upon ourselves not the consultants.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. At any rate . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: I have a question for the committee. Madam Chair, I think it would be helpful for myself as a researcher to know if the committee wants some form of comparison of VLTs, and social problems connected with VLTs, versus other forms of gambling. That I could easily prepare as part of this report. However, I don't believe that we could do a social and economic impact assessment of VLTs versus other forms of gambling. I could quite quickly, in a few pages, summarize the social impacts that have been documented for VLTs vis-à-vis bingo and other things, and if that would be useful to the committee, I would be willing to put that in.
MADAM CHAIR: I think that would be very helpful. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: I think so too. What I want to say is that my colleagues, I do agree, have a right to make comment, but when I originally sat on this committee, I had requested that recommendations come forward because I had some concern with us drafting recommendations after the end of all the material that was presented to us and all the information for this committee - and when I say us, I mean this committee - to actually come to grips with actually drafting recommendations. We were set out with a specific role to deal with the socio-economic impact of video lottery terminals in Nova Scotia, and that was simply it.
I would suggest to my colleagues, although I greatly appreciate them speaking out now, that we wait for all that information to come forward, and this committee have the opportunity to make recommendations based on the information that you have now. Even if it is 1 per cent or it is .5 per cent of the population, an issue still has to be addressed if it has a serious economic impact on those individuals within our society. Just simply because of the numbers or the fractions of numbers does not deter the responsible role of government to its people.
All I am saying to you is that we have to remember that, when in fact the final day comes for this committee to make recommendations based upon your findings that you will present to us. That is the issue that I just wanted to make comment on.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I am just wondering, on Page 16 of this report here, at the bottom of the page, I can't seem to quite grasp what is on the bottom of the page there, "The following sources were used by VLT players . . .". Could you just run through that a little bit? Something is escaping me when I look at this for some reason.
MR. CHAMBERS: The following sources of money were used by VLT players and these were in order to play in the past year. So, 6 per cent of VLT players postponed paying bills, and 5 per cent were problem players. Basically, 1 per cent of VLT players, who were not problematic postponed paying bills; 4 per cent had gone into savings and 3.7 per cent of the 4 per cent were problem players.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I get it now, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: In looking at the entertainment side of it all, we should have another parallel to that, not just what Laurie alluded to before, for the man that plays golf on a continuing basis, on a daily basis. How much money does he allocate to golf from his income, how much problem does that create in his home, does that create stress? We should be comparing to some other form of entertainment. We are looking at an entertainment sector here. It would seem necessary that we look at entertainment in its broadest scope, and to understand how people allocate their dollars when they want to entertain themselves.
We do know that there is 1 per cent that has a problem. We do know that, we realize that, and it has to be looked at. I think beyond that 1 per cent, then we have to look to the population at large and how they spend their time in recreational pursuits, this being one of their pursuits, and not sit here and make this to be the big bad boy of Canada. I think we have to have some fundamental comparisons so that we understand where we are going in entertainment.
MADAM CHAIR: I think your point is well taken; however, this is the problem that I see. We asked for consultants to submit to us research proposals. We scrutinized those proposals as best we could, and we decided to award the research to this group of consultants.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We have no problem with that.
MADAM CHAIR: What they presented to us was not a methodology that was going to examine gaming or entertainment more generally in some kind of a comparative way. What I see you asking in some ways, and the consultants probably can answer this better than I, requires a fundamental altering of the research proposal that they have given us. What do you think?
MR. HESELTINE: Yes. It would require, if we could pick any particular alternative recreational activity, basically duplicating the research in whatever recreation we chose. That would certainly be on the scope of the work plan and the budget that we put forward. Certainly, the terms of reference were specific to VLTs and were specific in relation to what
would happen if VLTs were not available in the province, and that was what we responded to and designed our work plan to.
MADAM CHAIR: Which is what the legislation requires.
MR. CHAMBERS: If I could add something. As a researcher, I don't feel it would be inappropriate to be making those types of comparisons; however, in gambling research, in general, around the world, which has been ongoing since 1980, there has been very little effort made to try to make those types of comparisons. To do so would require a great deal of money although, as a researcher, if not for the money part of it, I would certainly bid on it. It would require a great deal of money, but it also would solve or eradicate a lot of arguments that are out there.
MR. BALSER: The last comment, what I was going to ask, and that is ultimately I think the decision will have to come down to the revenue generated versus the cost, and part of the cost is social and very difficult to define, will your report in any way address that? It is fairly easy to look at x amount of money coming in but, when you talk about stress on family, how do you put a dollar amount on that and ultimately I think that is where the decision has to be made, is the revenue worth the cost, be it economic or social?
MR. CHAMBERS: I think you have to also flip it around because there are positive social aspects that I have uncovered with video lottery play and dollar values cannot be put on those either. How do you put a dollar value on someone who has an afternoon out enjoying themselves and not in a problematic way? So I think that there are methodological problems in defining in dollar terms, both costs and benefits.
MR. HESELTINE: It is the intention of our study to address the social aspect of this. I will say that in terms of economic methodology there is at least an attempt to quantify social problems in dollar terms and we have not proposed to do that. We have proposed instead to quantify the financial costs and benefits to the best that is possible with the model that is available in the province and to outline qualitatively what the social issues are. We will be doing our own research, the focus group research that Kerry has referred to, and there is a pretty extensive body of existing research that Kerry and others have been involved with in the province in relation to the social issues that surround gambling, and VLT gambling in particular.
MR. BALSER: One more if I may?
MADAM CHAIR: Sure.
MR. BALSER: Your preliminary document leans very heavily on the Focal Research information. What new information do you anticipate getting, as a result of your study, that will provide that germ of information we will need as a committee, or the Legislature will
need as a body to ultimately make a decision? You have said yourself there is a wealth of stuff out there already. What new ground are you going to plow that is going to cast more light?
MR. CHAMBERS: Let me just address survey research to begin with. Survey research is a very broad brush. It does not give a great deal of detail. It gives statistics. Focus group research or qualitative research allows for us to go in and probe, in detail, people's attitudes and opinions, intentions and what not. I have just completed - actually I cannot go into the nature of the research - a study with some problem gamblers as to what they see as particularly problematic with certain types of gambling. I believe that the focus groups will tell us what problem VLT players are most likely to do if the VLTs are removed. They are likely to tell us what types of social impacts the VLT players are presently experiencing and, while we cannot come up with any statistical inferences, they do show trends.
I have done several focus groups with problem gamblers before and they are quite open and willing to discuss some of the issues that affect them. When we put those people up against people who regularly play VLTs and do not have any problematic gambling behaviour, we can then determine what types of issues face them and perhaps we can go into some of the comparative things that people want here. In other words, people that do not have problems with their VLT play, do not have any problems at home. They do not run up their credit cards. They do not do any of these sorts of things and, when we talk to non-gamblers, we may in fact find that non-gamblers may have a lot of the same things at home that problem VLT players have, so we want to be able to make those comparisons to see what kinds of things in detail are going to come out.
MR. HESELTINE: In addition to that, I guess what follows from that incidentally, we are doing an economic study of VLT use and the potential of reducing VLT use in the province. There have been economic studies of the construction of the casino and also of bingo play in the province, so essentially this piece of work will go alongside of that work in terms of providing a measure of what the effect of VLT play in the province is. So to this point nobody has looked at the economic effect of VLT play in the province.
MR. BALSER: People have a problem, how do you determine, like four times a month was mentioned, or something, is that what defines me being a problem . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: No.
MR. BALSER: . . . or do I have to come to you and say I have got a problem, let's talk about it. Like, I am not sure.
MR. CHAMBERS: Actually that is a very dicey issue. There is a lot of argument - and I would put that in very nice terms - going on around the world as to exactly what constitutes a problem, what constitutes a problematic gambler. There is what is called the diagnostic
statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association who have 10 criteria and from that there is developed what is called the South Oaks Gambling Screen.
Nova Scotia has never been wild about either of those instruments and consequently Nova Scotia led an initiative between the provinces to try and define our own gambling screen. I feel there are some minor problems with Focal Research's definition of problematic play and that will be addressed in our report. I would refer the interested parties to an article in the appendices of the AGA's latest gaming report, where we did focus groups to discuss with the general public what they felt was a gambling problem and it was much different than what psychiatrists think it is. So the whole notion of what a gambling problem is, is quite wide open. I guess that is the best way to put it.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Currently the province contributes $500,000 to prevent and to treat gambling addictions. So, obviously, they recognize that these people are not just having fun. I want to ask you, in your studies, will you be including data or statistical information based on how this one may be used and the results, will that include any of that?
MR. HESELTINE: I would say not really in terms of how the money is going to be used although, okay, I believe the province initially contributed $500,000 into that fund and then the fund is annually increased in relation to the revenue actually that is collected by the licensees, the establishments that have VLTs in them, and then the province's commitment is to match that money, so that builds up that fund. That is a component of the Nova Scotia economy, that money being allocated there, and that will be taken into consideration in the economic assessment that we are going to do, but I think the application of the money beyond the fact that it does represent the existence of social problems in relation to gambling and the need to spend money to address them, that is probably the extent to which it comes into play in the work that we are going to do.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: I do not know if I have any more pearls of wisdom to cast on this situation but it would seem to me, just looking at what you have had here today and looking forward to your final report, you have gone into some detail as to what these machines are in the little appendix at the back. It might be helpful in your final report for the uninitiated if you had pictures of these machines, or a more complete description so we could know what we are talking about.
It seems that there are two kinds of them: skilled and non-skilled. The skilled game, as I read your description of it here, sounds like a mechanical version of playing poker?
MR. HESELTINE: Yes, an electronic version actually of playing poker.
MR. MACEWAN: That is what it is, a game that has been around for a long time. In fact, when the French had their fortress at Louisbourg, the gambling debts of the soldiers there were immense and sometimes led to people being sold into slavery.
MR. HESELTINE: Yes, anyway, you are right.
MR. MACEWAN: Gambling is an age-old problem. It is probably as old as life itself. I think I took a gamble when I put my clothes on this morning and went out on the street in my car and I certainly took a gamble when I went on the elevator coming in here because it might have broken down and that might have been the end of me. I certainly took a gamble when I put my name on the ballot at election time. I took a big gamble there but . . .
MR. CHAMBERS: You see, most of those are risks because you did not place a wager.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, I placed a big wager on my election, I will tell you that. Anyway, my whole career was on the line there but be that as it may, it just concerns me. I am not seeking to be argumentative but it seems to me here that we are zeroing in on the most modern and mechanized and state-of-the-art form of an activity, namely gambling, that is a very ancient practice and you do not need to be hooked up to a computer, or to a VLT, in order to gamble or in order to lose big time. A friend of mine lost his restaurant gambling on dominoes. So it is possible to lose without going to a machine.
If you are going to be a problem gambler, I would think if the machine is not available to you, it would be more likely that you would gamble in some more conventional way, some more traditional way rather than going to, what was it, recreational drugs or something else? There seemed to be a linkage here between this gambling and some of the more sinister practices in society which I do not know is valid. I would think if you are a gambler by nature, you will gamble on cards; you will gamble on horses; you will gamble on machines, various kinds of machines. The old pinball machine that I talked about was not computerized but it was certainly an electronic devise. It was a gaming machine. So I just hope that we do not lose perspective here and get carried away thinking that this is either something terribly new or sinister.
I await further enlightment when your final report comes in and maybe you will have a model machine that you can bring in here and show us how to play and find a form of amusement where you can actually get 75 cents back on the dollar.
MR. HESELTINE: I will look for a good picture. You have already made me regret ever using the phrase recreational drugs, and I do think that the argument you are raising is one that we will be taking into consideration in our work.
MR. MACEWAN: I see no harm in learning more about these new machines but in my view they do not represent anything really terribly new, and probably 25 years from now there will be something else that will make these things very obsolete but people will still be gambling.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there other questions? Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just want to know, when we do the socio-economic impact of video lottery terminal gambling in Nova Scotia, if we are going to look at that in relation to bingos, raffle tickets, casino nights, by charitable organizations. As you know, in the last few years many of the charitable organizations have said that they have come to struggle with respect to fund-raising since the introduction of video lottery terminals, because they believe that the money that was normally going into the community through these fund-raising events are now dollars that are put into the video lottery machines.
Let us not forget that when organizations put on bingo, they are non-profit charitable organizations, or not-for-profit entities, and the reason they do this is to fund-raise for legitimate issues that the community sees as needing to be addressed; either to help those less fortunate or for community ventures, or whatever the case may be. Raffle tickets, casino nights, have been held by Boys and Girls Clubs, and by youth centres and so on, throughout the province; many of these now have felt the pinch. So I would say that this has a socio-economic impact on that particular entity in itself and I am just wondering if, in fact, you are going to look at that. This is key to how they drive their fund-raising ventures in the future should this not be curtailed or regulated in some fashion than what it presently is.
MR. HESELTINE: Definitely, it is an issue. It was outlined among the arguments that are raised against legalization and one of the goals in the focus group would certainly be to determine whether or not making VLT as a gambling option illegal, would move people back to legal, charitable gambling options. It is uncertain whether or not that would happen, but we would certainly inquire about it.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We talk about the impact of certain types of gambling, whatever, but then we have the simulcast that has come along in the last five years or so and it has taken over on the racetracks, and many of our racing enthusiasts would say that the simulcast has really caused the failure of some of the tracks across Nova Scotia and eastern Canada. Again, it is another form of gambling that is out there and has it had an impact, is that what caused the demise of live racing in Nova Scotia, or is it not? All these questions can be thrown into the pot when we are looking at gambling. Simulcast is one that has come in in the last five years as well.
MR. HESELTINE: That is worth considering. I have to admit that I have heard that argument made with respect to trotting in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, that the introduction of other legal gambling options had a negative effect on the industry. I will write that down and I think we will see to what extent we can get at it in our research. Again, it is like the charitable situation, who is moving their money into VLTs from that option.
MR. CHAMBERS: I can tell you that my own research in that particular area has shown that it is typically older males who went to the track and basically the tracks are losing by attrition. They haven't been able to attract younger people to the tracks. For example, Japan has been extremely successful in attracting women to go to the racetrack, which then attracted a lot of men. Therefore, the racetracks are now booming.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Maybe we should do this study then, maybe we can turn the thing around in Nova Scotia and get the employment factor back up in harness racing.
MR. MACEWAN: Dog racing is very popular in Florida.
MADAM CHAIR: There are a couple of things that I have. One is that I know that the Atlantic Chiefs, Mi'kmaq Chiefs and with Health Professions at Dalhousie, Fred Wien and Lynn McIntyre have recently done a study on health issues in the Aboriginal community and they had some findings in that on rates of gambling. I am not sure how refined the data is, whether they broke it out in terms of VLT play and other things.
I know that a study can't answer all questions, that all studies are just a building block of a larger puzzle, but I am hoping that maybe through secondary sources and what have you, we might have some consideration paid to vulnerable populations within the problem gambling community itself; not all problem gamblers are the same, I guess is what I am suggesting. I don't know if you have had an opportunity to think about that or what is out there in the research that is already done, but I raise that as sort of an issue.
MR. CHAMBERS: All I can say about that is, you are right, not all problem gamblers are the same, they are attracted to a lot of different venues. We will certainly look at vulnerable populations in terms of video lotteries.
MADAM CHAIR: Youth. Just building on probably a different aspect of what Mr. Pye has raised, where he raised issues around the impact in terms of revenues on the not-for-profit sector, at the same time there is certainly anecdotal evidence that there has been an impact on the not-for-profit sector with respect to the kinds of services they are being asked to provide to meet the needs of families or problem gamblers, or what have you, without any accounting of that from government funding sources. I don't know what questions you will be exploring in the focus groups, but that also would be something maybe to sort of tease out a little bit.
Outside of that, I want to thank you on behalf of the committee for coming today. It has been a while; we have taken a while getting to this point. It is very good that the Focal Research results have come out at this time. I think it gives us more data to look at. Certainly you have prepared quite a good overview of what the literature has been to date. Unless there is anything else from any members of the committee . . .
MR. HESELTINE: Maybe I could just add a couple of things. Certainly, when the members of the committee have the opportunity to read what we have submitted today, we are interested in any comments that you may have. Our address, and so on, is on the letter. Actually, I would assume you would go through the clerk of the committee, but certainly we are interested in comments on the issues raised, particularly if you feel there are issues for or against VLTs that you feel we haven't outlined in this document; that would be very beneficial.
The other thing is, we have set up a fairly detailed schedule for the study. I intended to bring it today and I forgot it, but I will submit that. We are particularly concerned with respect to dates on which we are going to meet the committee and availability in relation to your agenda and that sort of thing. I will forward that probably tomorrow.
MR. CHAMBERS: One other thing. I had scheduled - and I can reschedule - the focus groups; the first one would be next Wednesday night here in Halifax and then one the following Thursday night. Anyone who wants to attend can certainly do so, we can seat up to eight people behind a one-way mirror. Then, the following Monday, I would be doing the focus groups in New Glasgow, if anyone wants to attend those.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Scott and then Mr. Pye.
MR. SCOTT: Just one question. How did you select the New Glasgow area?
MR. CHAMBERS: The reason that I chose New Glasgow was, first of all, New Glasgow has the highest rate, or one of the highest rates of play according to Atlantic Lottery Corporation, of VLT play. Not only that, it is an equal distance between Sydney and Halifax in terms of casinos. One might expect, for example in Halifax, that some people who play VLTs may say, well, I will just go to the casino. That may not be quite an option in New Glasgow, because it would be a fair drive to either Sydney or Halifax. Also, it is relatively close to the New Brunswick border.
MR. SCOTT: You had mentioned earlier about travelling to New Brunswick. I don't know if that would prove to be right or not. I know in Cumberland County, there is a bus service that is offered to the patrons of the native bingos in New Brunswick, that you
probably wouldn't find extending into Pictou County, but it certainly would be in Cumberland County.
MR. CHAMBERS: Actually you can find them in Halifax.
MR. SCOTT: I didn't know that.
MR. CHAMBERS: They go all over, they go to Boston.
MR. SCOTT: No. These are two or three times a week, if not more, every night it is offered.
MR. CHAMBERS: I am not sure if you are aware that when the VLTs were banned in Rocky River, Alberta, for a relatively short period of time, one of the things that happened there was that problem gamblers drove down the highway to the next town and started driving back drunk. So those are the kinds of things . . .
MR. MACEWAN: The recreational drugs.
MR. CHAMBERS: . . . we want to try to determine.
MR. PYE: I just wanted to say that I hope that we could have that faxed to our offices with respect to the meetings of the focus groups so that if we want to attend, that we can attend, and the dates and the time.
MADAM CHAIR: Thanks again. We are adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 2:36 p.m.]