A BC Lottery Corporation program designed to help keep problem gamblers out of casinos is a sham, according to a compulsive gambler and a specialist in gambling addiction who spoke to CBC News.
Participants in BCLC's voluntary self-exclusion program are photographed and sign a contract that allows the lottery corporation to eject them and fine them up to $5,000 if they try to enter a casino in the province.
However, in the 11 years that the program has existed, a fine has never been imposed, CBC News has learned.
The program has about 6,500 participants, and BCLC says it has turned away or excluded problem gamblers about 7,800 times in the past year. That suggests many participants have been caught entering gambling establishments more than once.
At least one compulsive gambler, who asked to be identified only as Shannon, has been able repeatedly to re-enter casinos unchallenged for 18 months.
Shannon, who spoke to CBC News on the condition her real name not be used, said the self-exclusion program has not worked for her.
She joined the program in late 2008 but has squandered about $40,000 in casinos since then — $4,000 of it in one 18-hour binge.
"[I expected] that if I did walk back into the casino, I'd find someone tapping me on the shoulder and saying, 'Excuse me, madam, but you need to leave.'
"They want people to come in here and lose their money."
Addiction counsellor critical of BCLC
Shannon is not alone, according to her counsellor, Dr. Jenny Melamed, a medical doctor and a specialist in addiction medicine.
Melamed called BCLC's hotline for problem gamblers to complain about the ineffective program and was shocked to hear the reaction.
"I asked, 'Why don't you tell the patients that this is a scam,' and he said, 'Because it's not up to us to tell them'," Melamed said.
BCLC has also tested a facial-recognition technology that would scan the faces of people visiting casinos and compares the scans with the stored photographs of self-excluded gamblers.
'If they're going to offer the program, then follow it through or don't offer it at all.' — Shannon, problem gambler
But the technology has not been adopted and a November 2009 BCLC report says the facial recognition system it tested needs a lot more work before it's dependable.
Another system is used to scan licence plates of vehicles in casino parking lots to help determine if problem gamblers have parked their cars there. That use of the system has been successful, BCLC has said.
Addict eventually ejected from casino
"I really want them to stop lying to patients," said Melamed.
"If you say you're [going] to keep them out, then keep them out. If you're saying it's a scam or a farce and it's not going to work, then tell the patients up front."
In early May, Melamed called officials with the self-exclusion program directly and demanded Shannon be intercepted and ejected from the casino she frequented, which security personnel did do successfully a few days later.
Shannon wants to know why it took 18 months to catch her.
"My life would have been completely different, because I wouldn't have been going to the casino every single day," she said. "'If they're going to offer the program, then follow it through or don't offer it at all. But don't give someone false hope."