B.C. Lottery Corp. misses mandatory review on some web, casino games

By Stanley Tromp, Canadian Press, Oct. 4, 2016



The British Columbia Lottery Corp. launched some Internet games and casino projects without performing a mandatory review that included assessing a game's impact on problem gambling, an internal audit shows.

The failure to do a social-responsibility review was highlighted as a problem that "should be addressed and resolved immediately," the corporation's internal audit branch said last March in a report. It was released to The Canadian Press under the province's freedom of information law.

Since 2009, the lottery corporation has required new projects to undergo an internal "corporate social responsibility assessment," or CSRA. It performs about 2,000 of the assessments a year to weed out imagery that appeals to minors, as well as "messaging that excessively glamorizes gambling, or presents it as an alternative to employment."

"Not completing a CSRA may lead to initiatives conflicting with corporate social responsibility objectives, and may result in negative public perceptions towards BCLC," auditors wrote, adding that it might also result in violations of advertising standards set by the provincial gambling regulator, the B.C. Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch.

Angela Koulyras, a spokeswoman for the lottery corporation, said contrary to company policy, some of its social media pages, such as its PlayNow Facebook page, did not include a responsible gambling message.

The audit shows that two casino slot-game themes were submitted for a corporate social responsibility assessment review missing "critical information" about the games.

Both errors have since been fixed, Koulyras said, adding the lottery branch has completed its assessments.

In July 2010, the corporation's PlayNow.com website was taken off line for more than a month while a privacy breach was patched.

Last year, nine people were given a combined $1 million in retroactive winnings after the corporation said a display issue with a game on the website was discovered.

Most problems found in the audit were "a result of staff turnover and training," the lottery corporation said, and it pledged to train more employees on problem gambling.

It also said it is ramping up other efforts to curb gambling addiction, including running a Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, making available GameSense information advisers who speak to 4,500 people every month, and helping fund the independent Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia.

David Eby, the NDP's gambling critic, said the lottery corporation should also insist that all customers show identification at casino doors to block criminals or those who are on a self-exclusion list for gambling addicts.

Susan Dolinski, the lottery corporation's vice-president of social responsibility, said it has not ruled out any option including checking ID at casino entrances, and it has discussed the privacy implications with the B.C. privacy commissioner's office.

She said no other casino in Canada conducts that level of screening, and technology is not advanced enough yet to make it practical to screen the 30 million people who visit B.C. casinos every year.

Eby said he would also like to see the corporation provide long-term counselling support in addition to the emergency support offered by its helpline.

The responsible-gambling program is overseen by the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the Finance Ministry. The ministry said the province has 30 clinical counsellors who provide free long-term gambling counselling across B.C., and 1,500 people were helped last year.

Eby also criticized the province for raising the maximum allowed to be spent on online weekly betting from $120 to $10,000 in 2009 while putting in place web-based games, which B.C.'s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch said in 2013 were too addictive.

The lottery corporation uses a consultant called Gamgard to aid in responsible game design.

Eby said a 2011 Gamgard analysis on PlayNow slot games flagged problems and ways to make them less addictive, but BCLC did not follow this advice. Koulyras disputed that account, saying of the 2011 study that only one slot-game theme was rejected by the responsible gaming branch and it was removed from the website.

The corporation's 2015-2016 service plan notes that "player awareness of responsible gambling activities was below target." Dolinski said that's because it is shifting its focus from raising problem gambling awareness to "changing behaviours and measuring outcomes."

The most recent B.C. Prevalence of Problem Gambling Study in 2014 found that about 3.3 per cent of adults have a gambling problem, a drop from 4.6 per cent in 2008.

Dolinski said the corporation is committed to curbing gambling addiction, even if doing so reduces its income.

"That is why we invest in so many programs," she said. "Our goal, to be clear, is that none of our revenue would come from problem gamblers. There is always more we can do."