Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Liberals betraying trust with wild gambling expansion

VICTORIA - The Liberals used to think gambling was terrible.
Gordon Campbell said gambling creates addicts and hurts families, back when the Liberals were in opposition. And his position was clear.
"No new casinos," said Campbell. "The only way the government gets money from gambling is from losers. We don't want an economy based on losers. There will be no further expansion of gambling. We'll try to reduce it.''
The Liberal New era platform even promised to "stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families."
But after the election everything changed and the Liberals rushed to ramp up gambling throughout the province, striving to recruit more losers, to use the premier's word.
There were 2,400 slot machines when the Liberals were elected. Now B.C. there are almost 5,000 slots.
The Liberals have opened mega-casinos and are pushing more addictive forms of gambling into small communities by encouraging bingo halls around B.C. to add slot machines. They have allowed drinking in casinos - something it also used to oppose. Alcohol and gambling; a match made in heaven if the aim is to encourage people to lose more.
It's worked. The government's take - its share of peoples' losses - has climbed by 50 per cent, to $850 million, under the Liberals. They plan to push that to more than $1 billion in the next two years.
It wasn't just the premier who used to be opposed.
Children and Families Minister Christy Clark used to speak out against casino expansion. She said gambling destroyed families, and resulted in violence against women. Any government that really cared about women wouldn't expand gambling, she said.
Katherine Whittred grilled the New Democrats about their much more modest expansion plans. "Faced with the avalanche of research into the negative effects of increased gambling on women, can the minister tell the House why she won't stand up for B.C.'s women and oppose the premier's dangerous gambling expansion?"
Kamloops MLA Kevin Krueger opposed gambling expansion on clear moral grounds.
Krueger warned of the dangers of problem and pathological gambling. He spoke sadly about the terrible tragedy in which a man entangled in a gambling addiction was accused of trying to kill his wife and child by setting them on fire.
More places to gamble meant more horrors, he said then. "The people it hurts the most are the ones we have a responsibility to protect, such as the poor, women and abused families," he said.
Please, Krueger urged New Democrat backbenchers. Stand up to your premier. Halt the gambling expansion. It is simply immoral.
Big deal, you may say. Politicians say one thing and do another. Circumstances change, the realities of governing and making tough choices come into play.
But this is different.
The Liberals' objections to gambling expansion were based on principle. They believed it was wrong for government to profit by exploiting peoples' weaknesses, by putting money ahead of the harm to individuals and families.
It's defensible to flip-flop on selling off a government-owned railway.
But how do you walk away from your principles, and not leave something important behind?
Campbell is right.
Government gambling is built on creating losers, and persuading them to lose more and more.
About 1.9 million gamble through some B.C. government lottery or casino or game of chance each month.
The government currently plans to lure 200,000 more people into becoming regular gamblers over the next four years, winning them over with marketing campaigns and by pushing seductive slot machines into neighbourhoods from Cranbrook to Prince Rupert.
And the Liberals are doing it knowing they are hurting people. About 90.000 people are already problem gamblers in B.C. The government's expansion plans mean another 9,000 will slide into that abyss.
What's sad is that based on their past statements, the Liberals know that what they are doing is wrong.
Footnote: Communities looking at putting slots into bingo halls to get the 10-per-cent of revenue that goes to the host municipal governments should talk to University of Nevada gambling expert William Thompson. Gambling sucks money out of the local economy that would have been spent on other goods and services, he says. An average B.C. slot machine rakes in $140,000 a year from losing gamblers. And most of that money leaves town.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How serious is the government about protecting the problem gamblers? You decide.
The BCLC Voluntary Self Exclusion brochures seem to be available only in English unlike other gaming brochures. Until as recently as Dec. 2002 self excluded gamblers had only to ask for a revocation form in a casino and once approved by Management---in they went. Does the Problem Gambling Fund pay for gamblers going for out of province residential treatment in Alberta? Apparently not. But the fund usually has thousands of unspent dollars at the end of each year which isn't rolled over. And on and on.....