I’M left somewhat discouraged by the prevalence of fellow human beings who in content conscience procure and indefinitely retain employment involving the exploitation of gambling addicts. While one might expect such disgracefulness from privately-owned casinos, one would expect more ethical conduct from government-owned and operated lotteries and other games, which in this province comes in the form of the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC).
Unfortunately, though, BCLC is callously misusing the debilitating weaknesses of their more ‘loyal’ consumers, especially those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. As for BCLC’s token offers of gambling-addiction withdrawal counselling services as well as their ads’ quite insufficient “Know your limit, play within it” and/or “If you gamble, use your GameSense … 19+”, it all hardly suffices for the significant and often irreparable financial damage done to addicts and their families.
Also playing a significant role in this unfortunate social issue is that BCLC is one of the largest, if not the largest, advertiser with Greater Vancouver’s four metro-daily newspapers, including the freebee publications Metro and 24 Hours; the latter two dailies, in fact, sell full front and back tabloid-jacket ads to the lottery corporation whenever there’s a large jackpot accumulating, and almost always those lottery-ad-jacketed issues come out as the very well consumed weekend editions. Indeed, it’s hardly a plausible coincidence that a reader won’t see printed in the said four dailies any editorial content critical of questionable BCLC ethical conduct.
There’s psychological research documentation noting that gambling addicts intentionally, though on a subconscious level, play games of chance until they lose everything. This formidable symptom of a gambling addiction can reach an extreme, one example having been aptly demonstrated in the film Owning Mahowny: The movie is a fact-based account of a former compulsive gambler from Toronto who, as a well-positioned senior banker with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, embezzled millions from his employer (CIBC then being the second largest bank in Canada) to feed his personal gambling habit at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The story’s protagonist gambling-addict banker manages to ‘break’ a casino table thus win its entire funding (for the time being, anyhow) which is typically in the millions) yet could not peel himself away from the casino establishment until he had (frustratingly for me and no doubt many other viewers) lost everything he’d won as well as the mega-money with which he came to town. I’ve been informed that gambling addicts are known for this kind of defeatist behaviour in order to (again subconsciously) feel justified in their post-large-monetary-loss self-flogging of their own psyches.
According to the BCLC’s 2006/2007 annual report, titled “Our Commitment to British Columbia,” the corporation had allocated only 27 percent of all games-played revenue back into prizes won (which includes consolation prize amounts); operations costs received seven percent; 22 percent went to retailers’ sales commissions as well as “casino and bingo service provider companies,” and 0.8 percent was spent on ticket paper and printing. The remaining 43.2 percent went into government ministry social programs. In the BCLC report describing in general the crown corporation’s distribution of gaming revenue for the fiscal year 2012/13, only 24 cents of each revenue dollar went back towards prizes; 41 percent went to “Provincial & Community Programs”, with 33 percentage points of that amount going to health care, education and consolidated revenue and eight percentage points going to ‘host local governments & gaming grants to community organizations’”; 22 percent goes towards commissions and fees for ticket retailers, nine percent for operating expenses and four percent towards “federal taxes for essential government services” (with that latter tax being fairly new, to my knowledge).
As for the actual relatively meagre portion of each dollar going back towards prizes — where revenues ethically and justly foremost belong, contrary to being treated more like an afterthought — all I received was a silent stare from the vendors with whom I talked about the abovementioned revenue-allocation percentage-pie, specifically their seemingly non-informed status when I erroneously stated that 50 percent goes towards prizes. Such ignorance on their part was not at all plausible since as licensed vendors one could safely conclude that they’d have to know that not even half of my mistaken 50-percent figure goes back to all winning ticket payouts. Furthermore, it proved equally elusive for me in acquiring those latest percentage-pie revenue-allocation figures from BCLC staff with whom I talked on the phone; and their website was just as difficult when I tried to access those same allocation amounts, which were tucked away in some tiny corner of BCLC’s own microscopic piece of cyberspace.
Exceptionally discreditable BCLC conduct involved the self-serving “jackpot disentitlement rule” aspect of the formal “voluntary exclusion [request]” which falls under the Gaming Control Act. It enabled both publicly and privately owned gaming entities to withhold sizeable winnings from addicts who had signed onto the ethically inexcusable agreement (presumably since then amended in compliance with the court’s ruling); however, large-profit gaming interests had contradictorily permitted themselves to keep any and all gambling losses suffered by those same addicts who were denied their winnings from the same said large-profit gaming interests. A lawyer representing two plaintiffs who had their large winnings withheld by BCLC, though later ordered by a court to be rightfully handed back over to the plaintiffs, said that he had hoped the ruling would have retroactively ordered all such withheld winnings to be returned to their gambling-addict owners, regardless of the exclusionary agreement. “The lottery corporation had no right to withhold the winnings as a penalty [while] they’re taking both the losings and the winnings.”
Also situated on the spectrum of unethical conduct is BCLC’s relatively insidious negative-option-like Extra!: Whenever a player buys any printer-issued lottery ticket (the most prominent being Lotto MAX and Lotto 6/49) BCLC’s computer grid automatically selects for the player four numbers at random between one and 99, which will always appear on the purchased ticket. Before it does, though, it’s left to the player to either fork over the Extra! one dollar or to decline, which in the latter case the word “NO” is printed instead of “YES” adjacent to those four Extra! numbers, which means the consumer does not receive the $500,000 top prize if his/her unsolicited four numbers are drawn.
Common sense strongly suggests that BCLC’s intent decision to force the four Extra! numbers upon every player’s every printed ticket is to create some trepidation in the minds of players who choose to not play the Extra! numbers. By this I mean, when checking their regular ticket numbers, some “NO”-Extra! players brave-it by checking whether any of their ineligible-to-win Extra! numbers had in fact been drawn; and some will do so solely to confirm that they had made the right choice, which the odds do favour that they did, and therefore saved an otherwise wasted buck. For the record, as a consistent No-Extra! sometimes-player of Lotto MAX and 6/49 (i.e. when their jackpots have irresistibly accumulated in size) I, without exception, never compare the drawn Extra! numbers with those four rejected unsolicited numbers on my ticket, for ignorance can often be a necessary bliss.
Then again, perhaps lottery consumers are supposed to be thankful that BCLC didn’t go all out and have their ticket scan-check computer loudly announce to the player that their Extra! numbers (or even just three of them, which is worth $1,000), as chance would have it, were drawn, but to which the consumer unfortunately said “NO”; and in place of the celebratory “We’re in the money!” tune played whenever any prize is won (even just a meagre one dollar prize) the said computer would play Brenda Lee’s 1960 hit song “I’m Sorry”.
As it were, that same (rather depressing) tune as well as its lyrics were effectively utilized by BCLC in television ads broadcasted not that long ago that seemed to stoop to an ethical record low; they incorporated into their mass message the psychology of human fear, one involving devastated regret over missing out on a large prize, all because of one’s own choice of ‘cheapness’.
One version of the TV ads shows a despondent lottery-ticket consumer — unfortunately (or foolishly) aware of the identity of the four Extra! numbers forced upon him via his ticket — so miserable over having “said ‘NO’ to half a million dollars,” that he’d withdrawn to beneath his bed, against the wall in a fetal position, with his very concerned wife futilely attempting to slide to him dinner on a tray. The ads’ message was always crystal clear: If only he/she had only parted with the paltry dollar and said YES to half a million dollars; meanwhile, Brenda Lee’s lyric’s chime in apparent accordance — “I-I-I’m sor-ry, sooo sor-ry, that I-I-I-I waaas such a … ”, with the singing fading into the commercial’s close, just barely excluding the final lyric, “ … fooool” (very likely to avoid crossing too far over the fine PR line). However, it seems that the real “sorry … fool” may be the game player who believes that BCLC plays fairly; for every player has to pay/fund various interests’ outreached hands to the tune of 76 cents of every dollar he pays in order to play — all before he can dream about winning a very small piece of the 24 cents from every dollar paid to BCLC that’s left for all prize payouts.
For those not already familiar, the actual odds of winning anything by playing the Extra!: matching all four Extra!-draw numbers requires an astronomically-low-odds bulls-eye hit of 1-in-3,764,376; the chances of matching three out of four numbers is 1-in-9,906 (for $1,000); you have a 1-in-141chance of matching two numbers (for $10), and one number, 1-in-6.8, nets you naught but your buck back. The overall odds of winning any Extra! prize is 1-in-6.5, which, contrary to still common misinterpretation, doesn’t in the least translate into one out of every six and a half plays purchased wins one of the prize categories. Confusing, yes; but, if anything, that misinterpretation is in BCLC’s best interests.
Also, I regularly find large extravagant scratch-&-win game cards — each costing either $3, $5, $10, or even as much as $20 — that are completely unscratched except for their relatively very small barcode area, all tossed into a garbage can immediately adjacent to a ticket self-check barcode scanner at a local convenience store. It’s as though the buyer is in such a rush to procure his gambling fix that he doesn’t bother with the ticket’s just-paid-for game portion, which any non-addict would at least take the time to somehow enjoy. Indeed, one can find at many ticket vendor outlets such scary-looking accumulated examples of gambling addicts’ paper waste products.
As another example of B.C.’s publicly-owned lottery corporation’s exploitation of consumers, especially those predisposed to abusing BCLC’s product, the corporation also offers what I see as betting shops to the most concentrated consumer populated areas of the Greater Vancouver region. They’re locations at which one can mostly find the likes of the average Joe or laborer spending his time — perhaps along with a sizeable chunk of his paycheck — playing the potentially very addictive game of chance called Keno. Every time I walk through the Guildford (Surrey) mall I receive a brief rush of melancholy just by the sight of the jackpot-winner hopefuls standing inside one of these creepy places, staring up at the ceiling-mounted Keno-draw-number VDUs.
Becoming instantly rich by way of a lottery ticket can be a biggest dream realized — a fact plainly taken advantage of for quite some time. This large revenue-producing opportunity, however callous-hearted, was institutionalized in 1985 as the already-mentioned provincial government crown corporation, which owns and operates all officially established mainstream lottery ticket production and sales in this province. Yet even as enticing as is the idea of possibly holding a big-winning lottery ticket, it nevertheless remains a notion with virtually zero chance of attainment, as almost all faithful players already know. For example, the odds of a 6/6-numbers win with the Lotto 6/49 is 1 in 13,983,816 — a truism culturally entrenched in the form of expressions and analogies comparing the quantifiably extreme unlikelihood of winning a large jackpot with the also-low odds of other specific occurrences.
Irregardless of this astronomically low chance of winning a jackpot, very many people continue to play on a grand scale. Unfortunately, however, a disproportionately large number of those players are the very folk who can little or least afford the cost of playing — not to mention the poorest OCD-enduring souls who are solidly addicted to the money-pit numbers-bet sport to a no-win-scenario degree. Thus the irony remains bitter, with those needing the money the most making up that demographic sub-segment that typically lose the most money to that bottomless pit.
As for learning what percentage of problem gamblers also suffer mental illness I futilely attempted to do so by contacting both BCLC and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Unless one or both of these entities has since then acquired and accumulated such statistics, the lack of accurate figurers reliably revealing what should be considered a pressing social issue instead reveals an apparent lack of serious official attention and action on gambling addiction.
(NOTE: Today, publicly released were the findings of a three-year commission’s investigation into massive amounts of dirty money laundered through casinos operated by British Columbia Lottery Corporation. According to a CBC.ca story, the commission’s head, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen, reported that “an unprecedented volume of cash was laundered through B.C. casinos” during the period he investigated, 2006-2016. He found that the government agencies — under the then-governance of the conservative BC Liberal Party — responsible for stopping the problem were aware of it yet “failed to intervene effectively”.)