Alberta is considering compelling all patrons to show photo identification at its casinos in a bid to stop banned problem gamblers from making their way back through its doors.
The proposal has similarities to the detection methods used in the Netherlands, where every gambler must provide photo identification before entering a casino.
"It's a big change culturally for the province, for our industry," said Kent Verlik, executive director of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission's social responsibility division. "We have to be very careful in how we approach these things."
Mr. Verlik said the regulator is researching the feasibility and public acceptance of all gamblers having to provide photo identification before entry. Under such a system, names would be crosschecked with those who have signed voluntary self-exclusion agreements to ensure they don't get in.
How to enforce such agreements has been a vexing problem in Canada. Most provinces have relied on a memory-based system - binders filled with gamblers' photos - that has largely been seen as a failure, with gamblers often returning to casinos, sparking lawsuits in Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.
A Globe and Mail series interviewed gamblers who had self-excluded but said they returned repeatedly to casinos. It also exposed how government-owned casinos are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on freebies - trips, dinners, theatre tickets - to keep gamblers coming back, a practice of which Ontario's New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath was particularly critical.
"When you look at who it is who's providing at least a fair chunk of the change that's coming into the casino doors, it's coming from problem gamblers," Ms. Horwath said. "These ... high-rollers are the very same ones who are often the most addicted gamblers, are often being lured back into the casinos with their VIP perks."
Problem gamblers provide roughly one-third of gambling revenue, studies show.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan told reporters this week that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has invested $40-million in problem gambling this year. He said there are challenges associated with addiction, and "we always should be on the lookout to make sure we're doing the best we can."
Loto-Québec has come under heavy criticism in the past for failing to control compulsive gambling, but Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said yesterday that the number of video lottery terminals in the province has been reduced. As well, the number of locations where VLTs are installed has been cut by 30 per cent.
"Loto-Québec is now among the world leaders with respect to social responsibility in controlling gambling through various practices introduced recently," said Mr. Bachand, who is responsible for the province's gaming industry.
Shane Simpson, the British Columbia NDP social development critic, whose purview includes gaming, said in an interview that he was disturbed to read data in The Globe series showing how some casino gamblers are individually losing more than $1-million annually.
"If you have somebody who's playing hundreds and hundreds of hours ... it should raise a flag for you that this is somebody who's pretty compulsive about this activity and isn't showing much moderation here," Mr. Simpson said. "And maybe we should be trying to identify whether we need support."
In Alberta, there is more to come for gamblers: Those who have signed the voluntary bans and want to return to casinos must take a three-hour course first. And starting Nov. 1, those who breach their self-bans could face a $250 fine, Mr. Verlik said.
With reports from Karen Howlett in Toronto and Rhéal Séguin in Quebec City