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N.S. has 1,500 teens addicted to gambling

The Chronicle Herald, By AMY SMITH / Provincial Reporter, January 7, 2005

Hundreds of Nova Scotians not old enough to vote or drink are addicted to gambling.

About 1,500 adolescents are problem gamblers.

As well, the province estimates that very serious gambling problems affect 15,000 adult Nova Scotians, half of them VLT players who lose an average of $1,200 a month.

Rodney MacDonald, minister responsible for the Office of Health Promotion, said his government doesn't like the fact there are gambling addicts in the province.

"I certainly don't want to see that number being there for our adolescents. It shouldn't be there," Mr. MacDonald said Thursday after a cabinet meeting.

"The fact that there are any problems with our adolescents is a sign we need to do Read More ..rk to stifle that."

The statistics on adolescent gamblers were in a briefing note this newspaper obtained through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The note was based on a 2002 study.

Caitlin Rochon, spokeswoman for the Office of Health Promotion, said that after hearing from students in grades 7, 9, 10 and 12, the province believes about 1,500 young Nova Scotians are problem gamblers. Their favourite gambling pastimes include cards, bingo, lottery tickets, sports betting and VLTs.

Mr. MacDonald said the province is doing Read More ..rk with young people to help stem the addictions.

The Health Department's Problem Gambling Services receives $1 million a year from Casino Nova Scotia for prevention, early intervention and treatment of problem gambling and to research the issue. The province also has 300 people working in addiction services.

Natalie Cochrane, a therapist with the Choices adolescent treatment program for young addicts, said gambling addictions among young people aren't always detected.

"They don't have the financial responsibility and adult responsibility that adults do, so it's easy to miss it."

As well, many parents and young people don't think of gambling as a potential problem.

"I think it's just a lack of understanding of how damaging it can become," Ms. Cochrane said.

"People are concerned about marijuana, not gambling, for instance."

She said since last February the Choices program has been giving all the teens it helps a questionnaire and the results show roughly 10 per cent are at risk for gambling problems.

NDP Leader Darrell Dexter said the number of young people hooked on gambling raises significant concerns.

"Once you have created the addiction in people, it's not going to go away," Mr. Dexter said.

"What are you going to do to minimize the effect of the next generation of problem gamblers?"

He said the fact Nova Scotia has about 1,500 young problem gamblers should be setting off alarm bells for the Hamm government.

"We now have, apparently, a group of addicts who are now going to struggle with this on a lifelong basis."

Liberal gaming critic Diana Whalen said young Nova Scotians should not have access to gambling in the first place and she questioned whether controls on the industry are tight enough.

"This signals a big problem," she said, one of them being that young people may feel invincible. Ms. Whalen said the province should do a better job warning of the dangers.

Premier John Hamm said there will always be gambling in Nova Scotia and the best way to deal with it is to regulate the industry.

"What the government is doing is making gambling as responsible as it can be."

He said a lot of people gamble responsibly and for many, such as those in rural Nova Scotia who play bingo, it's a social event.

"They have a great time and it's a relatively inexpensive evening and I see nothing wrong with it."

Mr. Hamm said revenue the province receives from gambling is important.

"We would rather have them going to government and paying for health care, education, than going to the private sector and making a number of Nova Scotians millionnaires off of the proceeds of gambling," the premier said.