Montreal

Quebec to slash number of video lottery terminals in low-income areas

As the new year begins, Quebec will start pulling video lottery terminals, or VLTs, from bars as part of a plan to reorganize their distribution and cut back on the number of machines in operation.

In 2 years, the province says there will be fewer than 10,000 machines in operation

Loto-Québec said it will use a new formula to determine how many VLTs will be in a certain region. (Mike Groll/Associated Press)

As the new year begins, Quebec will start pulling video lottery terminals, or VLTs, from bars as part of a plan to reorganize their distribution and cut back on the number of machines in operation.

Quebec's finance minister said in a news release that the machines will be taken from areas with a high concentration of VLTs, which also happen to be low-income neighbourhoods.

"Our government is determined to have responsible gaming on offer, fighting against compulsive gambling and preventing the outbreak of sites used for illegal gambling," said Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, who is responsible for Loto-Québec, the organization that oversees the VLTs.

According to the plan, in two years' time there will be fewer than 10,000 VLTs in operation across the province. At the moment, there are approximately 12,000 of the machines in about 2,000 establishments.

Loto-Québec said it will use a new formula – a maximum of two establishments per 5,000 inhabitants and a maximum of two machines per 1,000 inhabitants – to determine how many VLTs will be in a certain region.

They will also shift the distribution away from bars and look at putting them in places that "promote socialization and group entertainment," such as bowling alleys and pool halls.

The plan's impact on remote regions will also be monitored to avoid making the machines too difficult to come by, which may in turn cause illegal gambling to spread, the release says.

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said the government wants "to have responsible gaming on offer." (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Lost provincial revenue, helping hand for organized crime

Some bar owners believe the province will be losing out on much needed money by cutting the number of VLTs.

"If the government makes $800 million with these machines, it goes to the public treasury. With that we pay for health, education, we pay for the police," said Peter Sergakis, the president of the Union of Quebec Bar Owners Association, who owns more than a dozen establishments in the Montreal area.

He believes that the plan will benefit out-of-province gambling websites or that illegal gambling benefiting organized crime will fill the void.

Geneviève Lefebvre, director of La Maison Jean Lapointe, a non-profit organization that works with gambling addicts, said while she believes the plan is a step forward, she's not sure how well it will work.

About 80 per cent of the people they work with have a dependence on VLTs, but she added it's not only low-income areas that are affected by compulsive gambling.

"Addiction to gambling touches everyone," said Lefebvre. "We do not have more people with low incomes than people with very high incomes."

With files from Radio-Canada

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