|Gambling attracts some unsavory characters – and I’m not talking about casino patrons here, online or offline: I’m thinking more of certain sanctimonious politicians who make a career out of demonizing it. Add in some overly litigious and greedy lawyers, and, according to one state attorney, the gambling industry will be next in line for class action lawsuits from addicts.|
As reported in the Hartford Courant, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger told participants at the New England Conference on Problem Gambling that the gambling industry is the next target for litigious types after the tobacco industry. “somebody is going to sue somebody,” said Harshbarger, president of the citizens’ lobby group Common Cause. Harshbarger should know: He was one of the first state attorneys General to sue the tobacco industry.
Harshbarger said of the expansion of gambling outlets in the US that “there is a dramatic public health cost, there is a dramatic social cost.'
This much we know, from numerous studies. But isn’t gambling also an issue of personal liberties? Perhaps next there will be class action suits on behalf of currency traders who take a bath speculating on the dollar or the pound.
The issue of personal choice and responsibility, however, is not what the gaming industry is keen to stress.
Of late, the industry has sought to emphasize the leisure and entertainment aspect of gambling, while asserting the responsibility of casinos, for example by through allowing customers to bar themselves from casinos.
Executives from Mohegan Sun and the Connecticut Lottery Corp. said they were working hard to recognize customers who might have a problem, and Lottery Vice President Barbara Porto said it is 'just plain good business that we need to try to prevent problem gambling.'
'For the lottery, good business is sustained, healthy and responsible gambling,' said Porto. She said the lottery is looking for players 'who gamble safely and consistently over the course of their entire adult lives.'
Sure, lotteries generally revolve around a lot of people wagering small amounts regularly, but it would be disingenuous for casinos (who, unlike national and state lotteries, exist for the shareholders, rather than the treasury’s benefit) to claim that they’re not really interested in the high-rollers.
Harshbarger’s prediction actually occurred three weeks ago in Canada, when a judge ruled that a class-action lawsuit against Loto-Quebec should proceed. The lawsuit seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in damages on behalf of people addicted to video lottery terminals.
The plaintiffs are asking for up to $625-million (USD 398 million) in damages, alleging the provincial gaming corporation knew or should have known that its video lottery terminals led to gambling addictions.
Sol Buxembaum, a problem-gambling counsellor who is advising the class-action lawyers, said he believes the suit’s approval will prompt similar cases in other provinces.
And all it will take is one class-action lawsuit in the US to set in motion one long payday for the lawyers, which would force the gaming industry as a whole to think long and hard about how they market their product.