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Banned gambler loses lawsuit against B.C. casinos

Joyce Ross claimed two casino operators and the B.C. Lottery Corp. were negligent in their implementation of the voluntary self-exclusion program for problem gamblers. - Black Press file photo
Joyce Ross claimed two casino operators and the B.C. Lottery Corp. were negligent in their implementation of the voluntary self-exclusion program for problem gamblers.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

A North Delta woman who tried to sue two Lower Mainland casinos and the B.C. Lottery Corp. for failing to keep her from compulsively gambling has lost her case in B.C. Supreme Court.

Joyce Ross alleged she lost $78,000 at Surrey's Fraser Downs and Langley's Cascades casinos between 2007 and 2010 despite having signed herself into the BCLC's voluntary self-exclusion program, which is designed to bar entry to admitted problem gamblers.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Truscott found the two casinos were not negligent and their policies, surveillance and security systems were appropriate and reasonable.

"In many respects, the plaintiff is the author of her own misfortune because she was attempting after self-exclusion not to be identified by the casinos, which is just the opposite attitude that she should have had," Truscott stated in his decision.

The self-exclusion system at that time relied largely on casino staff recognizing banned patrons from hundreds of circulated photos they were to periodically review.

Identity checks of all incoming patrons was impractical, the court heard, and licence plate recognition scanners now used to detect banned gamblers' cars in parking lots weren't in use at that time.

The court found the program met and perhaps exceeded the industry standard of the time.

While voluntary self-exclusion helps identify and remove many patrons, the court said, those who enrol must still try to control or stop their gambling.

"It was her primary responsibility to remain out of the casinos," Truscott ruled. "To award her these monies simply because she was in the self-exclusion program when every other gambler not in the program is not entitled to this recovery, would be to encourage every other gambler to join the self-exclusion program in order to have this claim."

Ross signed up at Fraser Downs in June of 2007 and then steered clear of the Cloverdale racetrack and casino for long periods of time, after which casino staff were less likely to spot her. Ross also admitted she was less likely to be recognized from her 2007 photo after growing her hair longer and gaining weight.

The decision also upholds BCLC's right to withhold winnings of gamblers when they're self excluded – a rule that took effect in April 2009.

That did not deprive Ross of any winnings, court heard, because she never won more than $10,000 at a time, the threshold at which identification is required to claim prize money.

A separate class action lawsuit certified last year seeks to force BCLC to pay large withheld jackpots to other self-excluded gamblers.

Ross told Black Press last October that BCLC should lower the threshold for identification checks and thereby confiscate more winnings from excluded gamblers if it is serious about eliminating problem gambling.

She said her lawsuit was not aimed at recouping her lost money, but exposing the program's flaws so others are better protected in future.

BCLC welcomed the ruling.

"We are appreciative the court has confirmed that BCLC and our casino service providers have effectively met or exceeded the applicable standard of care," the lottery corporation said in a statement posted to its website.

"BCLC and our service providers are committed to continuously improving the program and will continue to conduct research, recognize best-practices and apply industry standards."

BCLC noted free problem gambling counselling and a 24-hour problem gambling help line are also available.

More than 6,000 B.C. residents are enrolled in the voluntary self-exclusion program and participants have been denied entry or removed from casinos more than 36,000 times from 2007-11. A total of 300 jackpot prizes were withheld from ineligible excluded gamblers between 2009 and mid-2012.

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