Problem gambling action - Loto-Quebec settles


120 000 plaintiffs in major Canadian litigation

Following a problem gambling class action involving 120 000 players and initiated in 2001, Loto-Quebec has agreed to a multi-million Canadian dollar settlement, reports the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The provincial government of Quebec, which owns the lottery, has now agreed to reimburse the costs of addiction treatment between 1994 and 2002 to the plaintiffs. The money is to help gambling addicts who were not previously covered by Quebec health insurance. The province began covering the cost of therapy for problem gamblers in 2002.

The plaintiffs originally sought about Cdn$1 billion in damages, but have settled for around Cdn$50 million.

Former journalist Nelson Labrie, the first witness called to testify, told the judge he thought video lottery terminals were ridiculous until he couldnt stop playing them. He went on to describe how his addiction had cost him his home and more than $250,000.

Legal representative for the plaintiffs Roger Garneau said that his clients had succeeded in proving that VLTs are dangerous, but that experts were not able to prove that playing on video lottery terminals caused people to become addicted to gambling.

Not everyone was happy with the result. Agreeing to the settlement was a mistake, said gambling counsellor Sol Boxenbaum, a consultant on the case who felt that the lawsuit could have created a precedent that would have forced Loto-Québec to warn people about the dangers of VLTs.

"How did we give up on a point like that?" Boxenbaum asked. "[There] should have been no question about a settlement unless we get that warning put onto the machines."

Plaintiffs who disagree with the settlement will have an opportunity to state their cases when the agreement comes before a final court hearing on March 8 for ratification by a judge.

CBC reports that VLTs bring in more than one quarter of the provincial gaming corporation's Cdn$3.8-billion in annual revenues.

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