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Banned gamblers sue BCLC over unpaid jackpots

Gamblers who voluntarily have themselves banned from B.C. casinos sometimes still manage to get in. - File
Gamblers who voluntarily have themselves banned from B.C. casinos sometimes still manage to get in.
— image credit: File

Two problem gamblers have the green light to proceed with a class-action lawsuit against the BC Lottery Corp. after they were denied $77,000 in casino winnings in 2010.

Hamidreza Haghdust was denied jackpots totaling $35,000 at casinos in Coquitlam and Vancouver and Michael Lee was refused a $42,000 slot machine jackpot in Duncan because they were both enrolled in BCLC's voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) program, which is designed to bar admitted problem gamblers from casinos.

In its defence, BCLC said one of the key planks of the self-exclusion program is to confiscate prizes as a further disincentive to deter participants from trying to sneak in to gamble.

Lee and Haghdust both did get into gambling establishments and, while they sometimes won, they also incurred large losses – $200,000 in Haghdust's case.

They argue it's "unconscionable" for BCLC to deny their winnings since it was negligent in failing to keep them out in the first place and it may also constitute a breach of contract.

A B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Savage agreed the pair can certify the class action suit, which opens the door for other excluded gamblers to add their own claims ahead of an eventual trial.

BCLC said it advertised and notified patrons of its jackpot entitlement rules that deny winnings for excluded gamblers once the policy took effect in April 2009.

Both plaintiffs had used the self-exclusion program since 2006, before the denial of winnings policy was introduced.

Haghdust was caught in various Lower Mainland casinos on several occasions but said he was never clearly told when he was removed that he'd be refused any future winnings if caught again.

BCLC said the corporation does not intend to appeal the certification decision but maintains it has run the exclusion program properly.

"The jackpot disentitlement rule is intended as a deterrent for self-excluded people," a spokesperson said in a written statement. "External reviews of our VSE program have highlighted the need for disincentives such as these."

More than 6,000 B.C. residents are enrolled in the voluntary self-exclusion program and participants have been denied entry or removed from casinos more than 36,000 times from 2007-11.

But many banned patrons are believed to gain entry and gamble anyway.

In another case before the courts, a North Delta woman is suing BCLC for failing to keep her from entering casinos and losing $331,000 while she was excluded.

A total of 300 jackpot prizes were withheld from ineligible excluded gamblers between 2009 and mid-2012.

Casinos initially relied on their staff to recognize banned gamblers but in mid-2009 BCLC started using licence-plate recognition cameras in parking lots, resulting in gamblers being detected and refused entry or removed 4,000 times since then.

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