Quebec Lottery Commission Reaches Settlement With Addicted Gamblers: Will Other Provinces Follow Suit?

A  $500 million  dollar class action launched against  the Quebec Lottery Commission in 2001  has reportedly reached a tentative settlement agreement. An estimated 250,000 class members who have incurred therapy fees between 1994 and 2002 as a result of  becoming addicted to using Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) are expected to settle their gambling claims for $50 million dollars, a far cry from the original amount sought.  The actual figures and terms of the agreement will be made public on January 16, 2010. In March 2010, a Quebec judge will decide on whether the settlement ought to be approved after hearing arguments from  class members unhappy with the agreement. The significance of this outcome will be likely to have an effect across Canada as similar class actions have been filed in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Ontario.

According to many, this settlement is bittersweet. On the one hand, some compensation has been provided to those “victims” of addictive gambling. On the other hand, the fact that the settlement was not court ordered means that this is not seen as a legal admission of liability, and cannot be used as a precedent to help bind  similar matters in other jurisdictions. This would allow lottery corporations to maintain their operational  status quo without any concern for the need to adhere to legally set duties of care to addicted gamblers. However, although a binding legal precedent may not have been set,  the settlement  may still  have established a “moral precedent” to encourage similar settlements in other jurisdictions, but only time will tell.

Video Lottery Terminals are the subject of class litigation throughout Canada. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation for example has been named as a defendant in a class action launched in 2007 by a couple who’s daughter committed suicide after becoming addicted to VLTs and sinking into deep debt.

Many similarities have been drawn between gambling litigation and tobacco litigation in the sense that both involve activities, which have been scientifically linked to  harm. Government agencies that permit the use of VLTs have been likened to tobacco companies as both are aware of the addictive nature of their products. Although the former relates to psychological harm while the later relates to physical harm, the door is open on both sides for legal and policy arguments to be made , which we are likely to see in the near future.

VLTs generate over $3.8 billion dollars annually for Canadian Gaming Corporations. Given these numbers, a $50 million dollar settlement to have this matter disposed of without setting any legal precedent  seems like a victory for the Lottery Corporations.

What is most troubling in my opinion is the fact that the Government, which is suppose to serve in the public interest is actually targeting vulnerable citizens with an economic driven approach which is to profit from the citizens’s proven addictions to VLTs. The focus doesn’t seem to be placed on ensuring game fairness or game safety in light of all the studies conducted. At the same time, the Government maintains its monopoly on providing these Video Lottery Services by preventing other entities from also providing similar  destructive services, which is supposedly lessening the harm to the public. I guess the hand that feeds is also that hand that bleeds.

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