Nova Scotia

N.S. government moves to protect itself against gambling-related lawsuits

The Nova Scotia government is introducing an amendment to protect itself, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and casino operators in the province from gambling-related lawsuits.

Immunity would stretch back to legalization of VLTs to Nova Scotia in 1991

a man's head is silhouettedin the light of a VLT machine
VLTs were made legal in Nova Scotia in 1991. (Mike Groll/The Associated Press)

The Nova Scotia government wants to give itself immunity from gambling-related lawsuits going back to May 2, 1991, the day the cabinet of the day made video lottery terminals legal in the province.

That legal protection would also be extended to the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, casino operators in the province, as well as every cabinet minister who has handled a file related to gambling going back almost 30 years.

The amendment to the Gaming Control Act, introduced Tuesday, is included in the law enacting provisions of the spring budget that was tabled in the legislature a week ago by Finance Minister Karen Casey. There was no explicit mention of the change in the budget speech or any other publication related to the fiscal plan.

Casey said the proposed changes to the law in Nova Scotia were similar to amendments passed by the New Brunswick government last December, and likely to be proposed by the other Atlantic Lottery Corporation partners, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

The law would not protect anyone in cases of negligence.

Nova Scotia Finance Minister speaks with reporters in Halifax on Tuesday about proposed legislation related to gambling lawsuits. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Casey called gambling "a choice of Nova Scotians, used for entertainment," but acknowledged some people might be harmed in the process as a result of "misuse."

"We believe it is responsible gaming," she told reporters at a bill briefing in the Red Room at Province House. "We believe it is an individual's choice but we also recognize we have responsibility to help those who may be struggling."

Casey pointed to a Newfoundland lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court of Canada as the impetus for the need to seek legal protection now. 

The lead plaintiffs, retirees Douglas Babstock and Fred Small, are seeking damages equal to the alleged unlawful gain obtained by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation from VLT revenue.

That class action includes as many as 30,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador who pumped money into an ALC VLT game any time after April 2006.

"VLTs are inherently deceptive, inherently addictive and inherently dangerous when used as intended," says a statement of claim filed in 2012. The lawsuit was certified as a class action in early 2017.

There are currently 2,030 off-reserve VLTs in Nova Scotia and 651 terminals on First Nation sites in the province. 

More than 1,200 VLTs have been removed by attrition since the Responsible Gaming Strategy went into effect in 2005, according to the provincial government. 

Casey said Nova Scotia feels the machines are safe.

"We take the position that used responsibly they are safe, but we also have a safety net for those who may not use them responsibly."

That safety net is a portion of gambling revenue set aside each year for programs aimed at helping problem gamblers or to design features that make VLTs less addictive or harmful.

Other bills that contain immunity clauses include the Health Authorities Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the  Social Workers Act and the Pension Benefits Act.