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Alberta gambling activity jumps, despite economic downturn

Albertans have been gambling more than the province expected, despite the economic downturn, according to the Alberta's gaming authority.

$22.2M jump in ticket lottery sales, while VLT and slot machine revenues $18M lower than expected

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission says the economy is affecting how players choose to spend their entertainment dollars. (Getty Images)

Albertans have been gambling more than the province expected, even with the economic downturn.

In the first six months of the 2015-16 fiscal year, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission raked in $12.5 million more than expected, driven in large part by a $22.2-million overperformance in lottery ticket sales. 

Part of that may have been caused by a string of large jackpots in the $50-million range, said Bill Richardson, president of the AGLC. He said the low investment to potentially win a very large jackpot can encourage non-traditional gamblers to participate.

At the same time that ticket lottery sales increased, the province saw an $18 million drop in revenue from video lottery terminals.

"What we're seeing is a rebalancing given what's going on in the economy," said Robinson.

"It's about disposable income," he said. "In an economy like this, things tighten up a little bit, and I think we're seeing part of that."

Robinson said the province has seen an outward migration because of the downturn, and that some of the people who have left the province may have been VLT players. He also said it's common for people to switch between gambling venues from time to time. 

Overall, gaming net revenue from April 1 to Sept. 1, 2015 in Alberta was $908.8 million,1.4 per cent higher than budgeted.

David Hodgins, a psychologist and coordinator with the Alberta Gambling Research Institute, was unsurprised by the jump in lotto ticket sales.

"Lottery tickets are a pretty inexpensive way of purchasing a dream," he said

However, Hodgins worried that the downturn could push problem gamblers, who represent roughly one to two per cent of the population, back into addiction by falsely appearing as a solution to their financial or personal problems.

"It's a real precipitant to people relapsing back into gambling," he said.

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