British Columbia

Family of 91-year-old who lost almost $300K gambling oppose idea of new Greater Victoria casino

The B.C. Lottery Corporation is considering putting a casino in Saanich or Victoria. But the family of a senior who remortgaged her condo and took out multiple loans to pay for her gambling habit are vehemently opposed to that idea.

The BC Lottery Corporation is considering putting a casino in Saanich or Victoria

The adult children of 91-year-old Elfriede Lippa (left) say she developed a gambling habit at a Victoria casino that caused her to lose close to $300,000. (Left image courtesy Tom Lippa/Right: Getty Images)

Tom Lippa says his elderly mother Elfriede was once "a vibrant woman" who was living in her own condo in Victoria and would visit his sister every day to walk her dog.

But unbeknown to Lippa and his sister, their mother, now 91, would go to the View Royal Casino after those walks with the dog, hiding a gambling problem that caused her to lose what they estimate to be close to $300,000 over a seven-year period.

"We can go back to some of her bank records and can see where she's withdrawn the money, like $200, 300, 500 all in one day," said Lippa, who added that his mother is now bankrupt and living in a care facility.

Lippa and his sister Sue Yakubowich are sharing their family's story because they are opposed to the possibility of a second casino coming to the Greater Victoria area.

But the B.C. Lottery Corporation, which is considering building a new casino in either Saanich or Victoria, say there are measures in place such as a voluntary self-exclusion program to help people whose gambling has become problematic.

At 85 years old, she remortgaged her condo

Lippa said he and his sister only learned of their mother's gambling habit after she developed dementia — and they are now trying to retrieve records from banks and credit card companies to figure out how much money she lost (Some of Elfriede's friends told the family that she went to the casino because she felt lonely).

The View Royal Casino in Victoria where, according to her family, Elfriede Lippa gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He said at 85 years old she remortgaged her condo for about $140,000, and then went to additional banks to get even more money for her mortgage. She even took out a $200 payday loan when she was 90.

Lippa said he believes his mother became addicted to gambling, but is not sure when dementia set in and what role that may have had on her choices. But he said there are "no checks or balances" at casinos to prevent vulnerable people from indulging a problematic gambling habit.

"There's nothing there to protect the elderly. They use cards, they know how much they spend, they don't stop them," he said.

There are protective measures: Gaming Corp.

A spokesperson from the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which operates the View Royal Casino, said there are measures in place.

One of those is the BCLC voluntary self-exclusion program, in which people can choose to exclude themselves from a variety of gaming facilities, giving security staff the authority to remove them from the facility if need be.

"All of our staff as a pre-condition of employment are trained to identify red-flag behaviour," said Chuck Keeling, vice-president of stakeholder relations and responsible gaming.

He said that the types of behaviour that they look for are those who increase the frequency of their visits, increase the amount they gamble, and show high levels of distress while playing and after playing.

"So in this case of this gentleman's mother, if this individual was showing signs of at risk behaviour our staff are trained to identify that and to also intercept that to see if they need help."

Across the province, 13 per cent of those who participate in gambling are 65 years of age and older, while the average age is 49, said Angela Koulyras, spokesperson for the B.C. Lottery Corporation.

Across the province, 13 per cent of those who participate in gambling are 65 years of age and older, while the average age is 49, according to the BCLC. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (Wayne Parry/The Associated Press)

However, she said the crown corporation knows from research that there are factors that could increase the risk of this population developing a problem with gambling.

"Because we recognize this is a very unique demographic, we launched a Game Sense for Seniors campaign last year to help people identify a problem with gambling," she said.

She said a marketplace assessment showed BCLC there was potential for revenue in the Greater Victoria region that wasn't being solely met by the View Royal Casino. The BCLC said a new facility would generate up to $2.5 million a year for the host local government.

Victoria mayor says city is not 'the morals police'

Speaking to On the Island earlier in June, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she finds the conversation about whether or not casinos should be allowed because of gambling addictions to be "really tiresome."

"I don't know when local governments started getting into — or why we would want to get into — being the morals police," Helps said.

"There are bars in downtown Victoria and some people have addictions to alcohol and some people just go and have a beer, so I really strongly feel that it's not our role as a local government to regulate morality.

"Casinos don't create addictions."

Lippa, who is still trying to figure out how much his elderly mother lost through gambling, doesn't buy that explanation.

"To say that they have no responsibility is like feeding a person behind the bar a bunch of drinks and letting them drive home. It's absolutely disgusting. You do have a responsibility."

With files from CBC's On the Island

To hear the full interview with Tom Lippa listen to the audio labelled: Bankrupt senior's son warns against casino expansion

To hear the full interview with the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation VP Chuck Keeling listen to the audio labelled: Gaming corp says casinos not taking advantage of seniors

To hear the full interview with Lisa Helps listen to the audio labelled: Should Victoria's Crystal Gardens become a casino?