Nova Scotia

N.S. to launch another gambling study

Nova Scotia's government will once again commission a study to examine the social harms caused by gambling, two years after shelving a previous draft report on the issue.

Nova Scotia's government will once again commission a study to examine the social harms caused by gambling, two years after shelving a previous draft report on the issue.

David Wilson, the minister responsible for the Gaming Act, said the research will include a look into the links between gambling and suicide.

He said it will also examine the economic impact of gambling, such as the health costs, as well as its financial benefits to the province.

"We've committed to doing a proper, well-founded research study on the social and economic impact of gaming here in Nova Scotia," Wilson said Thursday.

Gaming remains a key source of revenues for the heavily indebted province, with about $99.5 million of $146 million in gambling revenues in 2009-10 coming from video lottery terminals.

But the draft study the province rejected  said there were some heavy costs as well.

That report estimated that problem gambling was linked to about six suicides a year in the province.

It also said that 11 of the 55 problem gamblers interviewed by phone in 2008 say they've experienced either mental or physical health problems due to gambling.

It echoed findings of previous studies that indicate that video lottery terminals are the main source of gambling addiction in the province.

The province said the report had problems with research methods and wasn't complete, but the author has defended the work and emphasized it was a draft.

Terry Fulmer, a director of Game Over VLTs, an anti-gambling group, said he's pleased the province will undertake a new study. He said it should build on the previous work.

"It's the best news we've heard in over six years," he said.

Collect more information: anti-gambling group

He said his group also wants government departments to start collecting data that could be used by researchers.

Fulmer said coroners should be instructed to keep records on whether suicides are related to gambling, and police and justice officials should track if crime is tied to gambling.

In addition, he said bankruptcy trustees should track to see if heavy debts are tied to gaming.

"If the last study taught us anything, it is that the government has some of this information and doesn't release it, or in other cases they don't tell their people to collect the information," said Fulmer.

He said it may require changes to legislation to ensure statistics are kept, or cabinet ministers may have to direct their officials to start keeping the information.

Wilson said the timeline for the study may only be known sometime next year.

"When we have those details we'll bring them forward," said Wilson.

He said the government must finish a transition where the responsibility for gaming research is shifted to the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, an arms-length research body funded by the Health Department.

The responsibility for the study will ultimately be with the Health Department.

Fulmer said he hopes the government moves swiftly.

"In the past they've used the time to stonewall on the basic question about whether VLTs are harmful to Nova Scotians," he said.

The government refused to provide the rejected draft study a year ago. But it relented after both Game Over VLTs and The Canadian Press successfully appealed under freedom of information legislation.