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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
French casino hit by lawsuit
By Rosie Goldsmith
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Jean-Philippe Bryk
Jean-Philippe Bryk says his addiction is like a "cancer"
A ground-breaking French lawsuit is set to decide who is responsible for a gambler's addiction: the gambler, the casino or the state.

The city of Vichy in central France is famous for several reasons: its wartime Petain regime, its thermal spas and casinos.

But now it is also famous for the first lawsuit of its kind in France: a gambler citing his casino as partly responsible for his addiction.

Jean-Philippe Bryk is 43-years-old with a wife and two children. In 1995 he entered his local casino for the first time, just for fun, and won 10,000 francs.

I neglected my family and friends... I blew my mother's inheritance... You do everything, anything, to get your fix
Jean-Philippe Bryk
He returned three or four times and won 100,000 francs. He was hooked.

But then he started to lose.

"I spent about 4 to 5 million francs," he said.

"I would compare it to being a drug addict. Something changes in your head.

"I neglected my family and friends. I lied to them and used them to get money. I blew my mother's inheritance. I lied to the banks. You do everything, anything, to get your fix."

Mr Bryk calls himself a simple man, a worker. The problem with gambling he said, is that: "it targets the vulnerable classes.

"Lots of us are on benefits and gamble them away. And the casinos profit from that. They encourage you to gamble. They treat you like a VIP, giving you drinks and meals, and you forget your hard life."

Boom or bust?

The dramatic growth in France of gamblers and casinos - and of profit - is due to a deregulation of its gambling law.

Men at slot machines
Mr Bryk said he turned into a zombie in front of the machines
Casinos had struggled to keep open during decades of prohibition but after 1988 the industry was transformed. Forty new casinos have opened and now France has the most in Europe.

The gambling boom is all thanks to slot machines.

Forget images of the Riviera; of cigars and champagne at the roulette tables. Ninety percent of profits come from slot machines which were introduced into casinos in 1988.

The problem is that it is believed slot machines also create the majority of France's pathological players.

You are kept in this constant state of expectation that you might win
Mr Bryk
"Playing is quick and easy. It is the sound of the coins falling, the music and the hubbub," explained Jean-Philippe Bryk.

"When you are in front of the machine you are like a zombie.

"There is no skill or logic to it. You are kept in this constant state of expectation that you might win."

In a unique case in France, My Bryk is claiming that the casino he gambled in for nearly 10 years, contributed to his "cancer", as he calls it.

Duty of care

This is a difficult legal area in any country, in this case based on an assumed duty of care of the casino to the client.

Taking a chance
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents, Crossing Europe was broadcast on Thursday, 5 August, 2004 at 1100 BST.

Duty of care operates in other areas of addiction such as alcohol and tobacco, but not for gamblers. Mr Bryk is hoping to set a precedent.

He told the programme: "They are gaming professionals. They know the pitfalls. It is the casino's job to watch out for problem gamblers.

"I accept some responsibility, of course," he added, "But after you have become dependent, it is in their hands.

"They drugged me. Gambling is big business and none of the money is spent to prevent addiction."

The client has the right to play and the casino has no right to demand if his account is healthy
Partouche Manager Georges Sabah
The casino group Partouche is the largest in France, and indeed Europe. It operates Vichy's two casinos.

It has rejected Bryk's claim, saying that he is "an adult and of sound mind".

Georges Sabah, a Partouche manager in Vichy, told the programme:

"I do not think he has a chance of winning. When you walk into a casino what you do is play, to win or lose.

"The client has the right to play and the casino has no right to demand if his account is healthy.

"It is the responsibility of the player and he must keep his head on his shoulders.

"Partouche has of our own accord and at our own expense, introduced leaflets and posters to help players. We are trying to help them self-regulate."

Across Europe there is a gambling revolution. It is the fastest growing leisure pursuit, whether people play on the internet or slot machines.

As Europe liberalises its often arcane laws - a new Gaming Law is planned in the UK in 2005 for example - there are fears that gambling freedoms may be going too far.

It may be fun to "have a flutter". But as the French are finding out, protecting vulnerable players may become a legal and moral necessity.

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents, Crossing Europe was broadcast on Thursday, 5 August, 2004 at 1100 BST.

The programme was repeated on Monday, 9 August 2004, at 2030 BST.

Gambling: Help and advice
03 Aug 04  |  Crossing Continents
Gambling laws shake-up announced
14 Jun 04  |  Politics
Country profile: France
30 Jun 04  |  Country profiles

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