Nova Scotia

Taxpayers on hook for experts flown in to promote government gambling bill

The Nova Scotia Gaming Corp. paid thousands of dollars to fly three experts to Halifax to testify in favour of a government bill aimed at relaxing the rules of a program now meant to ban problem gamblers from casinos for life.

Nova Scotia Gaming Corp. says inviting the 3 experts to Halifax cost around $7,500

The Liberal government paid the travel expenses of Jon Kelly, former CEO for the Responsible Gaming Council, to bolster the bill. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Gaming Corp. paid thousands of dollars to fly three experts to Halifax to testify in favour of a government bill aimed at relaxing the rules of a program that bans problem gamblers from casinos for life.

A spokesperson for the Crown corporation said Monday that it expected to pay around $7,500 to cover the travel costs of Sue Birge, director of standards and accreditation for the Responsible Gambling Council; Jon Kelly, the council's former CEO; and Jamie Wiebe, the council's ex-director of research and development.

The three appeared Monday before Nova Scotia's Law amendments committee where the McNeil government's proposed changes to the Voluntary Exclusion Program were on the agenda.

"Lifetime bans are thought to be ineffective," Wiebe, who travelled from British Columbia, told the all-party committee Monday.

Seeking shorter bans

Under the current program, people who ask to be banned from casinos in Halifax and Sydney are indefinitely prohibited from entering those establishments.

Lifting that ban involves an investigation into an applicant's personal and financial affairs, as well as a hearing before the province's utility and review board.

Jamie Wiebe, former director of research and development for the Responsible Gaming Council, was flown in to speak before the law amendments committee. She said a lifetime casino ban isn't particularly effective for problem gamblers. (CBC)

The bill, introduced last month by Finance Minister Karen Casey, would implement shorter bans.

Kelly, who came from Ontario, told the committee he was in Nova Scotia "to express my support for what you are doing."

The speakers did not tell committee members they were invited to speak or that their expenses were being paid for by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corp., which manages the province's regulated gaming industry.

Speaking to reporters after introducing the bill on Sept. 21, Casey said the government was motivated to change the rules following a recommendation made by the Responsible Gambling Council.

'That's got to be a first'

Opposition MLA Chris d'Entremont said Monday he had trouble understanding why taxpayers would foot the bill to have outside experts fly in to testify in support of the government's position.

"I've never seen experts from across the country being paid for by a Crown corporation to come and present before us," said d'Entremont. 

"That's got to be a first."

New Democrat MLA Lenore Zann was just as troubled by it. She said she feels the bill is designed to entice problem gamblers back into casinos.

"They are going to make money from this and this is my biggest concern," she said.

The gaming corporation, however, is defending its actions. 

"At the corporation, we make decisions that are research-driven and regularly collaborate with other organizations," spokesperson Monica MacLean said in an email to CBC News.

"It was valuable to invite experts who are most knowledgeable in the research and best practices to present to law amendments, so they could ask questions of them directly as part of an informed decision-making process."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.