HALIFAX - A program launched in Nova Scotia two years ago that was intended to reduce excessive gambling will be scrapped because it has failed to meet that objective and is wasting money, the provincial government said Wednesday.
The My-Play system will be disabled for VLTs beginning early next month, said Andrew Younger, the minister responsible for Part I of the Gaming Control Act.
Younger said the system was a reasonable attempt to improve responsible gambling features on VLTs but evidence indicated it did not reduce play by problem gamblers.
About $19.5 million has been spent on the program since its introduction in April 2012, about $13 million of which were capital costs.
The system costs about $4.5 million a year to operate and the province was also faced with having to spend $1 million to upgrade it, Younger said.
"At the end of the day, it just didn't make sense to continue moving forward with it," he said.
Under the My-Play system, people insert cards into VLTs in order to set voluntary spending and time limits as well as to stop play immediately.
While the system was mandatory for all VLTs in the province, it came under attack from critics who said it was weak because the restrictions weren't mandatory.
But the province's opposition parties said the government's decision to eliminate the system amounts to a thinly veiled attempt to increase gambling income.
"I haven't seen the evidence that the government has been calling that this program isn't working," said NDP health critic Dave Wilson, who was the minister responsible for introducing the program under the previous government.
"If they have it, then they should be forthright with Nova Scotians and show them this program isn't working."
The government said only a small percentage of players were using real-time and historical information under the system, and Younger said and many gamblers were using more than one card in a single session.
Wilson said he was also concerned there was no alternative support program to be put in place.
The Progressive Conservatives also dismissed the government's move as an attempt to save money on the backs of problem gamblers.
"If you look at the losses to Nova Scotians and to problem gamblers and their families, it's far greater than the amount of money they're going to be saving by shutting down the My-Play program," said Tory house leader Chris d'Entremont.
"Maybe it doesn't do everything it's supposed to do ... but at least it's one part of a series of programs that will help problem gamblers get away from the VLTs. And for a government to say, 'Hey, it's not working. We're just going to shut it down,' I think is unfair."
Younger dismissed the opposition's criticism.
"This isn't about revenue. This is about do we spend $1 million to do a capital upgrade on a system that doesn't work and doesn't achieve what we're trying to achieve with it," he said.
The system will begin to be taken down Sept. 8.
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