Gamblers' self-ban system 'built on quicksand'

10,000 signed up for OLG's program but critics point to gaping holes

Last Updated: Sunday, June 3, 2007 | 6:57 PM ET

Thousands of gambling addicts have signed agreements with Ontario's gaming agency asking to be barred from casinos and slot parlours, but critics say the system is full of holes that let addicts easily slip back into the gaming sites.

The photos of 10,000 problem gamblers who have signed up for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s so-called "self-exclusion" program fill 22 binders.

'They knew me because I was always there, every day. ... It was easy to go back. Nobody stopped me.' Joseph Treyes

Security guards at the province's gambling facilities are expected to commit each face to memory, then charge those gamblers with trespassing if they're found in the facility.

But security guards say it's an impossible task and lawyers for clients who have sued the agency call it a "system based on quicksand."

Under the self-exclusion program, addicts who realize they have a problem sign an agreement asking to be banned from entering Ontario gaming sites. But the detailed form also includes a section releasing the OLG from any responsibility and future lawsuits.

Some security staff members, who asked to not be named, said they have documented the problems for years and even written to superiors complaining the current system is failing and that it's impossible to remember all the faces.

OLG argues it's ultimately the responsibility of the individual to stay away from the gambling facilities, pointing out the agreement is voluntary.

"The onus is on you on a voluntary basis to stay out of our casino," said OLG spokesman Jim Cronin.

That hasn't stopped nine people, including Joseph Treyes, from suing the OLG in the past 10 years.

Treyes, a 61-year-old Mississauga man suffering from Parkinson's disease, sought out therapy, counselling and even went off medication he said was contributing to his addiction before he finally gave in and signed a self-exclusion agreement.

Treyes said he was well-known to the staff at Woodbine Racetrack and easily identifiable because of his walker. Yet, in hundreds of visits between September 2000, when he signed the self-exclusion agreement, and February 2007, he claimed staff only stopped him once.

"They knew me because I was always there, every day," Treyes told the CBC a number of months ago. "It was easy to go back. Nobody stopped me."

Ontario's casinos use facial recognition technology to alert them to cheaters, but have chosen not to use it with the self-exclusion program.

Treyes's lawyer, Hassan Fancy questioned the use of such a flawed memory-based system. "That's a system that is based on quicksand," he said. "That's a system you can't expect to work."

Treyes was handed a settlement about a month ago. The OLG has settled all nine cases, for a total of $1.5 million. It wouldn't comment on the amount in Treyes case, citing a strict confidentiality agreement the two sides signed. Treyes and Fancy spoke to the CBC some months before signing the settlement and confidentiality deal.

In fact, a lawyer hired by Ontario's Problem Gambling Research Centre to study the OLG's legal obligations said the settlements raise the question of whether the gaming agency is trying to keep the courts from establishing a consistent rule as to the agency's responsibilities.

"By acknowledging you have a problem and putting the casino on notice that you have such a problem certainly some of the responsibility would appear to fall on the shoulders on the gaming facility and by extension the OLG," said Jasminka Kalajdzic.