A new piece of legislation before Newfoundland and Labrador's House of Assembly could stop residents diagnosed with a gambling addiction from pursuing a class-action lawsuit, critics warn.
Bill 18, which if passed into law would amend the Lotteries Act, has so far undergone second reading in the legislature.
Perry Trimper, the Independent MHA for Lake Melville district, said the bill — which is expected to go through third reading later this month — is flawed.
"Over $1 million a day is being spent by residents on gambling, and we are getting about a third of that back directly into our coffers," Trimper said in an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.
"It's going to take away any ability for those who suffered in some way from actually pursuing a class-action," said Trimper. While individual actions could still be brought to court, Trimper said it "would be pretty difficult to do that if you have suffered financially, lost your job or even family connections."
The bill, if made law, would "provide immunity for the government of the province, a minister, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation" and others from action related to "the performance of a duty or exercise of a power related to lottery schemes."
The bill also will specifically "prohibit an action for damages from being instituted or continued under the Class Actions Act."
Finance Minister Siobhan Coady tabled Bill 18 earlier this year. CBC News contacted Coady as well as Opposition Leader David Brazil, but has not yet heard back.
Speaking in the house in October, Coady said she believes the amendments will financially protect the government, which is one of the shareholders of ALC.
"If an action were to proceed and be successful against the ALC in an egregious amount, it could either force a bankruptcy of ALC or place the shareholders in a position to pay the amount of the award on behalf of the Atlantic Lottery Corporation," Coady said.
In the last fiscal year, N.L. residents spent $373.5 million on various ALC products. Of that, prizes of $194.7 million were paid out, while $121.1 million was turned over as profit to the provincial government.
Jordan Brown, the New Democratic MHA for Labrador West, is also opposed to the bill.
"It is ridiculous that the approach of the government is to shield itself from the fallout of the lottery corporation's predatory actions and techniques while providing no ramifications against the Atlantic Lottery Corporation for continuing to use these technologies, or further supports for those facing addiction in this province today," Brown said in a statement.
The other Atlantic provinces — New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia — all have legislation in place which protects the gambling industry from class-action lawsuits.
Recovering from gambling addiction
Derek Montague, the former mayor of the central Labrador town of North West River, has been suffering from a gambling addiction since 2011. He said it started after a friend died, and he started using video lottery terminals (VLTs) as a way to cope.
"VLTs are the opioid of the gambling world … the government and the Atlantic Lottery Corporation has done absolutely nothing to protect people from the highly addictive nature of VLTs," Montague told Labrador Morning.
He believes that all forms of gambling can be harmful to society, but VLTs are especially danger. Each machine, he said, is "designed by its nature to be as addictive as possible," said Montague.
Montague played poker, but VLTs were his downfall. his greatest Achilles heel. He said the rush from winning on VLTs was instantaneous, which made him want to keep on playing. Ultimately, the rush would always fade away.
"You spend a lot of days trying to kill yourself and you spend a lot of days feeling ashamed"
VLTs are the opioid of the gambling world. - Derek Montague
Montague, who now lives in Nova Scotia, said his health has gotten better but he is still haunted by memories of bars in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
While he does not feel the allure of going to a casino to play poker, the pull toward VLTs still remains strong.
Meanwhile, as for the possibility of Bill 18 passing through the legislature, Montague said he had a question for MHAs.
"Would you be acting like this for any other addiction?" he said.