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Joyce Ross sues BCLC

A 54 year old lady named Joyce Ross is suing the BC Lottery Corporation for the more than $300,000 she lost at two of their casinos. She is a compulsive gambler who registered is a BC Lottery’s self-help group.

As one might expect, Michael Smyth (he used to be known as Mike) takes the age old Tory view that she “overlooked a little thing called ‘personal responsibility'”. What he obviously doesn’t understand is that sick people, as part of their illness, can’t take what Smyth would see as the appropriate “personal responsibility”.

Since Smyth looked, evidently, our society has discovered mental illness. Slowly, I would agree and unevenly most certainly – but our society tries to properly diagnose mental illness and treat it as they would any physical illness.

My own form of mental illness, for which I’ve been treated for over 20 years, is depression usually in the form of “anxiety”. I’m under treatment and now for 90% of the time I’m clear of symptoms. Sometimes, however, for reasons I can’t tell, I have an attack. And it’s devastating. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but it would be useful if Smyth could have just one bout of it. He would soon learn that the illness cannot be treated with “stiff upper lip” discipline and that one of the main causes of mentally ill people not getting treatment is that so many people think it’s a matter of “character”.

Of course I know the thing that’s giving me this bout is irrational. That’s the essence of much mental illness whether it’s depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and yes, gambling addictions. Slowly, very slowly, our society is starting to understand that addictions are not something the addict wants to have and giving treatment to the patient not prison or shunning or both.

While we still ban addictive substances, such as what we call drugs, we don’t jail the user. We do, however, jail the supplier. Quite irrationally, we give licenses for sale of the most dangerous drug of them all – alcohol.

Starting back in 1843 with the famous McNaghten’s case we have developed rules whereby the inability, through insanity, to form the necessary intent to commit a crime, one is found not guilty then detained at “Her Majesty’s pleasure” until cured, if that happens.

Over the years the law has come to recognize that professionals who, knowing of the addiction, feed it for profit must accept some responsibility. It started, I believe, with “dram shop” cases in the US. The courts began to find, for example, bars responsible for deaths at the hand of someone they have over-served.

I do not make the case for giving people back their losses at the racetrack as a matter of routine. I do say, however, that a purveyor of services that feed addictions when they knew or ought to have known the services were being used by an addict, does bear some responsibility. If that standard is to be visited upon bartenders, why not casinos?

This isn’t a case of a person in Monte Carlo, in full formal attire as required, losing huge sums of money. This is a lady of 54 losing the sort of money that any casino operator ought to recognize as most probably out of the usual.

Does that mean that casino operators ought to concern themselves with their patrons lose and how they lose it?

Yes it does. Casinos have a vested interested in seeing their patrons lose. Every game in the casino is “fixed” so that, in the aggregate, patrons lose. Just as bartenders know that serving mind altering drugs places upon them a special obligation, so should casino operators recognize that same special responsibility.

Of course Ms. Ross was a damned fool if she was in control and chose to risk her life’s savings. That she wasn’t under control was known to BC Lotteries by reason of her volunteering herself for help they provided.

As usual, Smyth stretches analogies asking if breweries should be responsible for beer bellies and :Safeway for all those cheese doodles they openly peddle to overweight snackaholics.” This method is called reductio ad absurdum and is used to trivialize the serious matter at hand.

Each case depends upon its own facts. The rule is not that everyone who serves a drunk is responsible for all that drunk does thereafter.

It is to say that if you know, or based on the facts ought to have known, that your profit making exercise poses a serious risk to the consumer and others, you will be held responsible.

Joyce Ross was known to the Lottery Corp to have a gambling addiction. Even if she hadn’t communicated that fact to the Corp, a jury might well hold that her actions were so unusual as to raise serious suspicions of her mental ability to gamble rationally.

Ms Ross was – she would have to prove this – mentally incapable to make rational judgments when gambling was involved. The Corp knew this or ought to have known it and should pay.

2 Responses to “Joyce Ross sues BCLC”

  1. Philip Hicks says:

    Ms. Ross’ case is not isolated. A friend of mine lost most of his life’s work to his former wifes gambling addiction. He couldn’t cure her though he tried to help her get help.

    In the end, all he could he was save himself and start over.

    Another friend works in the gambling industry here in B.C. Thinks the voluntary exclusion program is great….if it were only legal to enforce it.
    People put themselves on the program, then walk into the casino and start to play. All the establishment can do is remind them that they are voluntarily excluded.

    If they do anything more than that they may be charged with some kind of assault or discrimination. It’s an impossible situation.

    Neither Mr. Smythes flippancy nor ‘find who’s really to blame’ mentality will lead to…if not a solution, at least a way to live with the reality.

  2. Jack Bennest says:

    Rafe (my friend)

    Is an alcoholic responsible for the result of a terrible accident when driving his car/truck?

    I feel for anyone who admits to a disease. I have anxiety at times but no depression that I am aware of. I have learned to cope with elevators, heights, planes and a lack of windows. I just don’t go there anymore. I am a diabetic. I can be moody if the blood sugar is wonky.

    But I accept my responsibility in life for my actions and I believe we all must.

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