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Diapers in casinos a troubling symbol of problem gambling , says researcher
SOURCE: Canadian Press
Dirk Meissner
May 15 2007

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VICTORIA (CP) - The diapers hold nine cups of fluid, are made of six layers of cotton and micro-fibre, dry in an hour, are reusable and come stylishly in white or burgundy with Velcro closures.

A company in Kitchener, Ont., is advertising them on the Internet for $35 each - two for $60 - and say they are a perfect fit for "gamblers at all-night casinos," among other people. It alarms Prof. Tim Pelton, of the University of Victoria's Centres for Addiction Research.

"That's very troubling that there are people like that who are struggling that much," he said.

Pelton is working at trying to measure problem gambling among Canadian youth and he took particular notice of a survey conducted by the B.C. Lottery Corp. and released recently through an Access to Information request.

The survey of casino workers found many workers polled said they regularly see problem gambling up close, including people wearing diapers so they don't have to leave the machines to use the washroom.

Many of the employees who responded to the survey three years ago admitted to being uncomfortable with what they saw.

Paul Smith, the lottery corporation's director of public affairs and corporate social responsibility, said the organization is constantly attempting to give its employees more tools to spot and potentially help problem gamblers.

But he added: "We're not really interested in having card dealers become problem-gambling counsellors, but the protocol in the casinos is if they spot problem behaviour they alert a supervisor or a floor manager or someone senior."

"They will then interact with the patron, hopefully encourage them to take some time out and talk about some of the behaviours they are seeing and hopefully guide them into a discussion about problem gambling."

It's not like a bartender who almost always knows when a customer has had too much to drink and must be cut off, said Smith.

Identifying a problem gambler is a subjective exercise as some of the behaviours associated with problem gambling could also be related to other behaviours, some as common as disputes with a spouse or other patron, he said.

"We think a lot of our approach at the casino level is all about making sure that the player is well-informed, that they understand what are the things that I can do to gambling responsibly, like setting a budget and putting a time-limit on your self," he said.

Pelton said finding out what triggers problem gambling is a relatively new area of research, but it deserves more attention because gambling isn't going away as governments can't seem to resist the lure of the gambling dollars that fill their revenue coffers.

The B.C. government reported revenues of more than $980 million last year from the Crown-owned B.C. Lottery Corp.

"We just don't know enough about it (problem gambling)," said Pelton.

"That's the main problem. We're enjoying the fruits of the system that makes money for the government, but we haven't necessarily pondered or reflected upon or done research on the impacts to society."

People who wear diapers to casinos are not increasing their chances of winning, he said, and it indicates their level of delusion about playing the machines.

"Those machines are entirely random in their behaviours."

A spokesman with B.C.'s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch said the numbers of addictions counsellors are increasing and so are the budgets.

The government is increasing the number of addictions counsellors this year to 37 from 31. The counselling budget is rising to $7 million next year from $4 million this year.

The budget will be $8 million in 2008-2009.

There are currently two people in the province who have the right to conduct direct interventions with problem gamblers at B.C. casinos, the spokesman said. The number is set to grow to seven in July.

The government's goal is to have one direct intervention counsellor in every casino in the near future, the spokesman said.

There are 17 casinos in British Columbia.

Smith said recent surveys indicate B.C. casino employees are more attuned to spotting potential problem gamblers and are more comfortable with offering them help.

He would not directly discuss the issue of people wearing diapers into casinos other than say it is a scenario that has been mentioned in at least one employee questionnaire.

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