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Withholding Winnings – The B.C. Experience

by Sue Birge Former Executive Director, Policy, Responsible Gambling and Business Services, Government of B.C. | Sep 14, 2012 10:40 AM

Newscan (Vol 14, Issue 36)

When people sign a voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) agreement in B.C., they are also signing away their right to any winnings if they breach their agreement.

B.C. sees this as a best practice in assisting people with issues related to problem gambling, and hopes that other Canadian provinces will soon follow suit.

How the Policy was Changed

After some discussion between BCLC and the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), which regulates all gambling in the province, a policy decision to proceed with withholding winnings was implemented in April 2009 with the full support of the Minister responsible for gambling. In June 2010, the Gaming Control Act was amended to fully authorize BCLC to withhold such winnings.

Under the Act, people signing up for VSE are served notice that any winnings they may realize while in breach of their agreement will not be paid out. They must acknowledge that they understand and agree to this.

The Rationale

During debate on this amendment in the Legislative Assembly, the Minister stated: “The reason [for withholding winnings from VSE participants] is that it is to act as part of the deterrent to the entire self-exclusion program with regards to people going back into our facilities after they’ve agreed not to go in. Any monies they would win would be held back and have to be spent only on problem gambling research.”

While this may seem harsh to some, the decision of the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) and the provincial government to withhold these winnings was based, in part, on the outcome of an experts’ forum looking at issues and best practices related to self-exclusion programs (see RGC’s From Enforcement to Assistance: Evolving Best Practices in Self-Exclusion). At that forum, experts agreed that withholding jackpots would provide a strong disincentive for VSE registrants to re-enter gaming facilities.

What Happens to the Money?

At the forum, experts agreed that withheld funds should not be kept by the operator, but should be used for charitable purposes or to support research and programs designed to help people with gambling problems.

Since the program’s inception, almost $1.2 million has been made available for problem gambling research, which is providing valuable information to both GPEB and BCLC in their efforts to prevent and treat problem gambling. This funding enabled participation in the Responsible Gambling Council’s most recent Insight forum. The province has also been able to support the Canadian Gambling Research Consortium, which is a Canadian leader on problem gambling research, and provide funding for an independent evaluation of B.C.’s existing problem gambling programs. Future projects include conducting a province-wide prevalence study, which will update data last gathered in 2007.

Legal Challenges

There have been legal challenges to the practice of not paying out these winnings, and B.C. looks forward to addressing this issue in a court of law. By entrenching non-payment in legislation, requiring VSE registrants to agree to forfeiture, ensuring that gaming venues inform patrons of this regulation, and using withheld funds for purposes such as problem gambling-related research, the Province has a robust program in place.

But Does It Work?

British Columbia is a leader in delivering problem and responsible gambling programs, and is currently the only Canadian jurisdiction to withhold these types of prize payments. Several U.S. states, including Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania have similar programs in place.

The question remains, of course, as to whether the withholding of winnings actually keeps voluntarily excluded gamblers from re-entering gaming facilities. Since B.C.’s program started in 2009, the number of withheld jackpots has increased slightly each year, and now totals 322. However, a recent survey shows that people on the front lines, including casino staff and problem gambling counsellors, firmly believe it is an effective tool that helps strengthen the self-exclusion program.

The goal of BCLC and the Province is to decrease the number of withheld jackpots to zero, which will provide the best proof that this strategy has effectively deterred people with gambling problems from breaching their VSE agreements.