Problem gamblers may be helped most by a program designed to prevent non-problem gamblers from becoming addicted to video lottery terminals, a study for the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation suggests.

The My-Play System — intended to help no- and low-risk VLT players manage and monitor their gambling — was introduced by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation in 2010.

The voluntary system involves gamblers using cards that are inserted into the VLTs, giving the player the ability to set a spending limit, to stop play immediately and to set a time limit.

In order to find out whether the system helped high-risk and problem gamblers, the foundation commissioned Focal Research Consultants to conduct the first phase of a study to measure players' behaviours and attitudes before and after the implementation of the My-Play System.

The company surveyed 500 regular VLT players about their gambling attitudes and behaviours.

Dr. Kerry Chambers, a part-time professor at Dalhousie University who works with the foundation, said the study suggests the card might actually better serve high-risk players who reported higher intent to use it.

"It would decrease their play, they would have more control and so on. The non-problem players felt that it probably wouldn't change their play behaviour at all," said Kerry, a gambling expert.

Those opposed to VLTs said they would prefer to get rid of the machines altogether because the games ruin people's lives.

"It's PR to say 'we're doing our part,'" Terry Fulmer with GameOver VLTs in Halifax said. "It also shifts again the blame: 'Hey, if you're stupid enough to do this, then we have to protect you.'"

Gamblers who reported that they did not intend to use the My-Play System card said they didn't understand how the program worked, and were concerned about their privacy, the report found.

The second phase of the study will revisit the original VLT players and a randomly selected control group to compare the first phase findings, to see if the My-Play System changed VLT players' gambling attitudes and behaviours.

Nova Scotia is the only place in Canada where such cards are used.

Other countries like Norway have made similar cards mandatory, as well as putting limits on daily gambling amounts.

Problem gambling has dropped in Norway, but it is unclear whether it was from the card or removal of bill acceptors — places to insert bills.