VLT lawsuit without merit, says Atlantic Lottery Corporation

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation went on the defensive on Thursday afternoon, alleging a lawsuit filed against the corporation was without merit and vowing to defend itself aggressively.

A class-action lawsuit that was recently certified in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador relies on outdated and irrelevant law, the ALC claimed in a news release Thursday.

​"The 1710 English Gaming Act is from a different age. It has nothing to do with lotteries, particularly video lottery, and does not form any part of the law of Newfoundland and Labrador," wrote the ALC.

The corporation has yet to file a statement of defence in court, but spoke out in the media. It insisted that VLT games were regulated, were decided solely on chance, and had integrity.

"We believe a well-managed and regulated video lottery program is preferable to an unregulated or black market industry," the company wrote.

The company said the claims contained in the class-action lawsuit have not been tested in court, and the class-action certification was nothing more than procedural. It is pledging to appeal the class-action certification.

Destorying families: plaintiff

Before he started therapy, Doug Babstock says he'd spend $500 a day on VLTs in Newfoundland and Labrador.

His habit was kept secret from his wife — he'd play mostly in bars. It started innocently, he said, in 1998. But by 2000, he was fully addicted.

"After I retired in 2006, it became ridiculous. It was four hours a day, every day," he told the St. John's Morning Show.

Now, as a representative plaintiff in the laswuit against the ALC, Babstock said he wants to see fundamental changes or even the end to VLTs in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"For me, it's not compensation. It's getting the machines corrected or taken out," he said Thursday.

"Too many people are being hurt by this. Families are being destroyed."

Rarely win

Babstock is one of 30,000 people who could benefit from the class-action lawsuit, according to lawyer Ches Crosbie. The lawsuit, which was certified Dec. 30, claims VLTs deceive users into thinking they will win money.

Babstock said the machines make it look like a user is one or two symbols short of winning.

"But you very rarely win," he added.

He admitted that with some forms of gambling, it's clear the player will quite likely lose. But he said "you don't know the odds with these machines. You know the odds with 6/49."

While they have empathy for those who are struggling with addictions, two bar managers in St. John's say VLTs are an important source of revenue for lounges in the city.

Owner Marcel Etheridge estimates that Captain's Quarters gets anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 yearly from the five machines in that bar and hotel.

He said that amount of money can be make-or-break for an establishment.

"If we were to lose these machines today … I will close the place. There is no doubt about it," he said.

Would a ban work?

Etheridge said people who suffer with addictions should receive help and counseling — but that doesn't mean that gambling or other entertainment should be banned for everyone.

"Do we then take, because a few people who become alcoholics or [become] addicted, do we take away from the other people who enjoy the pleasures of entertaining themselves by gambling?"

He said an outright prohibition wouldn't work, with options such as online gambling.

The owner of another St. John's bar, the Peter Easton Pub, said VLTs bring in about a third of that establishment's revenue.

"If the machines were to be taken out, I'd say one in every two bars would fail. Because of the loss of revenue," said Conan Coates.

Coates said he used to gamble on VLTs himself, but refused to do it at his own bar.

"It would be very dangerous to be in your own place and be here working all day long and having easy access," he said.