For some people the convenience of online gambling helps them get more out of their hobby, but for problem gamblers it can make it easier for them to spend too much money and too much time with games of chance.
The British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) has been offering legal, regulated online play for a decade through its PlayNow.com portal and expanded the types of games offered in 2010.
BCLC director of corporate social responsibility Paul Smith said there are both advantages and drawbacks to the online network when trying to ensure people are using gambling opportunities responsibly.
"There's a level of isolation or individualism that's associated with play online," Smith said. "That being said, there is support activity and information available throughout the Playnow.com website, including a self-evaluation tool."
By showing gamblers how much money they've spent in a certain session and how much time they've been online, Smith said it can help them understand if gambling is becoming a problem for them. The site also allows users to track how much they're spending on a weekly, monthly or annual basis.
"We find frequently for many people the individual session information is informative but they get somewhat surprised when they look at a much fuller history and see how much they've invested in gambling entertainment," he said.
Although the system allows people to track and evaluate their own gambling spending patterns online, the BCLC isn't yet able to use the information it collects to identify problem gamblers and offer them targeted support or treatment suggestions.
"That's a very, very early developing science," Smith said. "There is a lot of work being done by a lot of different organizations around defining algorithms that can potentially be more predictive of behaviour, but that's not something we think is advanced enough to offer somebody the certainty or assurances that we can absolutely separate a problem gambler and a non-problem gambler and clearly we don't want to be in a position of making mistakes in that regard."
While people can gamble in their own home online, Smith said in some ways it's easier to gamble anonymously at a casino because there is no system in place to track how much any individual is spending.
Smith will be in Prince George in the coming days as part of BCLC's second annual gambling awareness week. He'll be speaking about the tools the crown corporation has to help online problem gamblers at a luncheon at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre on Thursday from noon to 2 p.m.
BCLC has sent out invitations to local physicians, counsellors, social workers and other related professionals but the public is also welcome to attend.
In addition to Smith's presentation, there will also be speakers discussing how brain chemistry relates to gambling, BCLC's prevention programs in casinos and the different treatment programs available to help problem gamblers.
Smith said it's important front-line social service and healthcare workers understand what services exist in the province so they know where to refer someone who presents with a gambling problem.
"I think people have to understand we're not just in the business of making money, we have a very specific mandate of delivering gambling in a socially responsible manner and we take that quite seriously at BCLC," he said. "Far from wanting to encourage problem gamblers to spend more money, our position at its most base is we want problem gamblers to recognize their issues, leave the casinos or the online environment and take advantage of those resources out there to give them a hand."
In addition to Thursday's presentations, BCLC is also operating kiosks around Prince George this week to inform people about some of the myths surrounding gambling and what the odds really are of winning that big prize. The kiosks will be at local post-secondary institutions, retail outlets and Friday's Prince George Cougars hockey game.
The lottery corporation is also holding a public skating event on Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Prince George Coliseum and will have gambling information on hand at that event.
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