Public perception of gambling skewed

The Winning Hand

Those who think the number of problem gamblers living in the vicinity of a casino is on the rise should think again, says a new Canadian study.

A three-year impact study of casinos in British Columbia's Lower Mainland shows that no serious increase in problem gambling was detected in these regions, despite host city residents' beliefs that casinos do more harm than good, says a news story in the Surrey Leader.

The report, created by consultants for the B.C. government, examined the socioeconomic impacts of the 2005 opening of two casinos and the 2004 addition of slot machines at a racetrack in the region.

Research included random phone surveys of 2,500 people in the casinos' and racetrack's vicinity, interviews with 630 patrons at the new venues and surveys of casino employees, municipal representatives, police, merchants and counselors.

Though the number of serious gambling problems hasn't risen, the number of people who believe an increase has occurred has spiked. The survey even goes on to predict a public backlash, the newspaper reports.

Last year 61.7% of the residents surveyed in three B.C. cities, Langley, Surrey and Vancouver, said the harm of gambling outweighs the benefits, up from 54% who said the same thing in 2004. (Respondents to the survey were also assessed by questions that gauged their gambling habits, the Leader reports.)

In Langley City, the site of one casino, problem gambling rose to 5.4% in 2006 from 2% in 2004 and severe problem gambling rose to 0.6% in 2006 from 0.5% in 2004. In neighboring Langley Township, however, the study found a reduction in problem gamblers: 2.5% of gamblers were rated moderate and 0.4% were rated severe, down from 3.6% and 0.4%, respectively, in 2004.

The city of Surrey saw an increase in its severe problem gamblers to 1.9% from 1.6% in 2004, but moderate gamblers fell to 3.3% from 4% in 2004.

The biggest jump came in calls from Langley City residents to the province's problem-gambling helpline. The number of calls jumped 50% to 15 a month up from 10 a month since a local casino opened in May 2005.

Province-wide, however, the number of calls to the helpline dropped in 2006 after four years of steady growth from 2001-2005.

The report, says the Leader, found no increase in crime attributable to casino expansions and no links to suicide rates or bankruptcies. Gains included 1,000 new jobs and tens of millions in ongoing revenue for the cities and province.

Overall, the newspaper says the report concludes that the two casinos and the slots at the racetrack "neither caused widespread economic rejuvenation, nor have they created major new social problems."

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