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Manitoba Should Do More Than Absorb VLT Fees For Six Months


March 24, 2022

Manitoba’s government is on the right track in deciding it can do without an estimated $1.3 million by absorbing the video lottery terminal (VLT) fees businesses would’ve paid for six months. While that’s a good start, Manitoba really ought to examine permanently removing its annual gambling haul from the government’s general revenues. Then it needs to redirect those funds toward fighting problem gambling and reducing poverty.

“VLTs are among the most addictive forms of gambling that governments use to fund their operations, so it seems like Manitoba is missing a rare chance to change its lottery system in the interests of the whole province,” says Brian Dijkema, a co-author of several reports on gambling reform by Canadian think-tank Cardus. “Of course, the toughest part of removing the harm of VLTs is the revenue they provide to businesses. Instead of helping wean business off VLTs, the government’s decision on fees will only deepen reliance on gambling revenue for both business and government.”

One study of gambling and problem gambling in Prince Edward Island found that someone who played VLTs in the past year was thirty-eight times more likely to have a significant gambling problem than someone who never touched a VLT. Meanwhile, researchers in Alberta found that up to 77 percent of VLT profits and 72 percent of slot-machine profits come from problem gamblers.

VLTs are designed to keep players in front of the screen through features that make them think they’re closer to winning, or are winning more often, than they really are. Deceptive features include audio and visual effects that celebrate a player “winning” an amount less than he or she bet. They also display symbols that make it appear the player was close to winning even though the outcome of each play is completely random. These features manipulate players’ emotions and thinking to keep them playing longer and spending more.

Provincial gambling operations also act as a regressive tax, taking proportionally more from low-income families than they take from high-income families. The poorest 20 percent of Canada’s households spend an average of 5.7 percent of their income on gambling each year. This is nearly three times the rate paid by the country’s highest-income households. Nationally, an estimated 15 to 50 percent of gambling revenue comes from problem gamblers, even though they make up only 1 to 4 percent of the population.

“The provincial government received $425 million from the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation last year,” says Dijkema. “That money disproportionately came from low-income Manitobans and problem gamblers. Why not use those funds to help low-income families build up their savings so they don’t need to turn to payday loan companies? Why not massively increase funding to help treat and reduce problem gambling?”


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