Options Needed for BC Gamblers with Mental Health Challenges, Says Human Rights Complaint

Lora Bertuccio, who has bipolar disorder, says complaint is ‘about accommodation.’

By Andrew MacLeod 5 Jun 2017 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has accepted for filing a Nanaimo woman’s complaint that the province’s problem gambling programs fail to accommodate people like her who live with bipolar disorder.

“Mania is something [that’s] part of my illness I cannot control,” said Lora Bertuccio who, like others with bipolar disorder, can swing between feelings of depression and times of mania.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website, symptoms of mania can include “extreme optimism, euphoria and feelings of grandeur... impulsiveness and possibly reckless behaviour.”

In Bertuccio’s case, she gambles on slot machines, an impulse that has led to large losses during her episodes of mania.

She describes, for example, losing an entire paycheque after starting a new sales representative job in January. “I got really hyper because I really loved my job,” she said. “I got really wound up with it.”

She said she doesn’t remember gambling during that period of mania, but later was shocked to discover from her bank records how much money she lost.

Other options needed, says complainant

In B.C., the main program to address problem gambling allows people to voluntarily self-exclude themselves for up to three years from all places with slot machines, bingo halls, and the province’s online gambling website.

Bertuccio said the program hasn’t worked for her. When she enrolled in it while living in Vancouver, she said she still entered casinos around half a dozen times.

Nor does it allow for the fact that when she’s not in a manic period, gambling is something she enjoys and that she feels even helps. “I was using gambling through my whole life to mitigate the feelings of anxiety and depression,” she said.

582px version of Lora-Bertuccio-Small.JPG
Lora Bertuccio is bringing a complaint about B.C.’s problem gambling programs to the Human Rights Tribunal. Photo: submitted.

Gambling has long been common in her family, and many of her friends socialize at the casino. “It was the only place I felt comfortable to go,” she said.

Rather than being excluded, Bertuccio said she would like a mandatory play card with fixed limits that would cut the amount she would be able to lose, something that’s unavailable in this province.

As she put it in an email to The Tyee, “If those with [a bipolar] diagnosis could ask for accommodation to preload a monthly card as to not go over budget, we might be able to crack the code and start breaking things down a little. I am already self-excluded, but those who are self-excluded can easily make it through the doors and spend thousands in a couple of hours.”

Which is what brought her to the Human Rights Tribunal process. As she put it, “The complaint is about accommodation.”

BCLC and government decline to comment

In a May 25 letter, tribunal member Walter Rilkoff wrote to Bertuccio that her complaint could proceed against the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch in the Ministry of Finance; David Horricks, the executive director of the community supports division of the finance ministry; and the B.C. Lottery Corporation.

A second part of the complaint, against Lindy Devine Counselling in Nanaimo, was allowed to proceed “based on physical disability with respect to your allegation of being unable to access her service due to your physical disability.”

Bertuccio said in a phone interview that she has a physical disability that meant she could not climb the stairs to Devine’s office.

The Human Rights Tribunal declined to accept other parts of the complaint, including one naming Jim Lightbody, BCLC’s president and CEO. It also found there were no grounds to proceed with a complaint against the counselling service based on mental disability since “the tribunal does not review medical opinions or treatment decisions.”

The letter said the alleged contraventions of the Human Rights Code took place between January 2016 and March 3, 2017 and that the respondents can apply to have the complaint dismissed. A copy of the complaint and a letter setting out the next steps would be sent to Bertuccio and the respondents, it said.

Neither Devine nor Horricks responded to calls Thursday afternoon.

Spokespeople for both the BCLC and the finance ministry said making a comment would be inappropriate while the issue is being considered by the Human Rights Tribunal.

Gov’t report linked problem gambling and mental illness

The finance ministry spokesperson said the province spent $5.9 million in 2016-17 on its responsible and problem gambling program, including about $2.5 million to provide free counselling “for people struggling with a gambling problem or that of a loved one.”

There is also a problem gambling phone line that is always open, said the spokesperson.

The programs aren’t enough to protect people with mental illnesses, Bertuccio said in an email. “They pretend they are doing something by creating an illusion of endless studies and a few brochures but do no real action that helps people get out of the torturous existence of a mental illness that mostly cannot be controlled.”

A 2014 study conducted by R.A. Malatest and associates for the finance ministry’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch found that at-risk or problem gamblers were “significantly more likely to experience a mental health issue than non-problem gamblers.”

More than one out of three people who were at-risk or problem gamblers reported having experienced a mental health issue. The rate for non-problem gamblers was closer to one out of eight.

Bertuccio said by phone that she expects the respondents will apply to have her complaint dismissed, she said. “There’s no way they’ll want this to be public.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Rights + Justice

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