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Looking out for gamblers in trouble

By Lorraine Graves

Published 12:17 PST, Thu December 5, 2019

As we spoke, his eyes quietly scanned the room. He stopped and watched someone in the room, asking if they were doing ok. They were. 

Happie Poonian, regional team lead for player health at the BC Lottery Corporation, still watches to find people for whom gambling has become a problem, even though he no longer works the floor of casinos.  

Originally from Britain, Poonian studied education at university and played American-style football in Bellingham. 

He says he uses his education degree in his job today, teaching other GameSense advisors to watch for and help those gamblers who might need it. 

The BCLC oversees all legal gambling in our province. The GameSense program is now offered in a host of languages. Today, the program announced two new advisors for the program.

Jonathan Qiao will be at River Rock Casino to offer players support in Mandarin and English. Part of his job will be dispelling common myths about gambling and demonstrating how slot machines operate. 

Wilson Tsang at Starlight Casino will provide information to players in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. 

Poonian and his colleagues train GameSense Advisors like Tsang and Qiao to both build rapport by listening without judgment and to ensure players know how to seek additional support when needed. 

The program’s advisors at various B.C. casinos and community gaming centres can have conversations with players in Punjabi, Tagalog, Hindi, French, Serbian, Spanish, Russian, Latvian and English. 

The printed material, available at GameSense information centres, can be found in in simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Punjabi, French, Tagalog and English. 

“Offering players the opportunity to interact with GameSense advisors in their preferred language can help provide more meaningful exchanges between advisors and players about how the games work, the odds of winning and losing, and better connect those, who feel they need it, to additional support resources,” said Jamie Wiebe, BCLC director of player health. 

The program, launched in 2009, seeks to encourage players to find ways to reduce the chance of gambling related problems. 

Some suggestions include setting time and money limits, being open and honest with loved ones about how much gambling one does. 

The GameSense staff do not work for the casinos. They work for our province’s gaming commission, BCLC. They are trained to answer questions about how the games actually work, the odds of winning or losing, and to dispel myths about gambling. For instance, if you have rolled every number on the dice but sixes, you are no more likely to roll sixes the next time. 

Or the the sunk cost fallacy where the more money you invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it. But saying, “I’ve spent this much, I cannot afford to quit now,” is not always a solid decision especially where gambling is concerned. 

They are trained, by people like Poonian, to offer confidential support and to connect those who need help with appropriate people and resources. 

Last year, advisors had 67,000 interactions with customers at B.C. casinos. Currently, with 41 trained people, all casinos and community gaming centres, situated in 35 BC communities have an advisor. 

Wiebe says, “I am proud of our efforts to invest in and enhance player health supports by offering in-language services that reflect the diversity of our players.”

According to Poonian, one of the things advisors do is man the GamesSense Centres within establishments but they do also walk around the floor, basically connecting with any patron that they can, whether they see signs (of a problem) in them or not. 

It all comes down to human interactions. By knowing people better, you can sense when they are worried, Poonian says. 

For more information about GameSense click on GameSense.

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