Cashless gambling with a twist
By paul
Café Mini Casino, a small cashless casino in Terrebonne, Canada, aims to give the buzz of gambling, but without the potential for losses: but the jury is out on whether it is actually encouraging players’ habits, or whether it’s a way to avoid problem gambling.

The proprietor, Serge Sigouin, bought a video slot machine, and proceeded to play it for 10 years, treating it as a kind of fun piggy bank. With the proceeds, he started his own mini-casino, with four video slot machines, and six tables for blackjack, poker, roulette and baccarat.

The difference is, players get credits depending on what food they order: A $1 cup of coffee gets players 100 credits or $100 in chips, while a $3 hamburger gets 200 in credits or $200 in chips. No other money is spent or won, and that’s fine by the punters, Sigouin said.

He says his philosophy is that real gamblers will never quit until they’re out of money, and his facility is primarily to help gambling addicts rather than to make money. Sigouin has a history of criminal activity to support his own gambling addiction, and he said the café helps gamblers understand that they can never beat the odds in the long run. He says that although it is not a scientific approach to treating gambling addiction, it is better than the cold turkey approach of other gambling treatments.

However, not everyone is convinced: “I don’t personally believe in it”, said Claude Bilodeau, a former gambling addict who has set up a treatment center just outside Montreal. 'In my opinion it's still maintaining an illusion,' said Bilodeau. 'It could become dangerous because if people feel they're lucky, it could be an incentive to return to the Montreal casino or video-lottery machines.'

The Quebec gambling regulation body said they had not heard of Cafe Mini Casino when contacted for comment. Spokesman Rejean Theriault said the agency would investigate to ensure the cafe does not violate provincial regulations on recreational casinos.

Richard Garlick, a spokesman for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, said Sigouin's casino café seems to be unique in Canada, but a controlled study would be needed to see if it had any merit in treating gambling addicts: 'As a pacifier for the recovering gambling addict, this may have some value,' Garlick said.

However, it probably does little to address the underlying problem of gambling addicts.

'While they may enjoy gambling for no stakes in this mini-casino, I can't help but feel that activity would sort of keep their interest alive in gambling and the temptation would be pretty strong to go somewhere and do it for money.'

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