Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Liberals fumble questions about on-line betting

VICTORIA - A surreal day at the legislature.
The cabinet minister for gambling says he has no opinion on whether gambling has expanded in B.C. over the last three years.
The cabinet minister for addictions refuses to answer questions on gambling addiction. That's not my responsibility, she says.
Gambling addiction, it turns out, is the responsibility of - yes, you guessed it - the minister responsible for creating more gamblers.
Even the Liberal backbenchers - generally a pretty enthusiastic bunch when it comes to pounding their desks any time a cabinet minister answers a question - seemed dismayed. The best they could manage was a few tentative taps.
The Liberals were trying to answer NDP questions about why they had introduced Internet gambling.
For the money, obviously. There's no public policy reason for encouraging people to bet on sports events from their homes, no community lobby demanding that people be encouraged to gamble from their home computer.
The Liberal election campaign platform included a promise to rein in gambling in B.C.
Gordon Campbell - and a raft of other Liberals - spoke out against gambling in opposition. He promised, in writing, that a Liberal government would "stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put strains on families."
They have done the opposite.
There were 2,400 slot machines in 10 casinos when the Liberals took over. They've doubled the number of slots in three years, and are on track towards more than 8,000 of the machines by the end of next year.
Slot machines were restricted to casinos; now the government is pushing them into community bingo halls.
When the Liberals took over, gambling netted the province $560 million - money taken from losing bettors. This year it will be more than $850 million, and they're planning on cracking $1 billion.
The Liberals have moved casinos to 24-hour operation, raised betting limits, allowed alcohol to be served on the casino floor.
And now they have become the second jurisdiction in North America to move gambling on to the Internet.
Just selling lottery tickets on-line, Solicitor General Rich Coleman told the legislature, a less-than-accurate description of the BC Lottery Corp. initiative. People are able to bet on sports events, and the corporation has introduced a new "game" just for web gamblers who want to bet on football. Those bets can only be placed through the website, a dandy traffic-building measure. (The lottery corporation made a pitch to take betting online during the NDP years, and was told to forget it.)
So, given all that, have the Liberals broken their promise to "stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put strains on families." Have they in fact expanded gambling?
Coleman says some people may think so.
But what do you think, a reporter asked.
"I don't really have an opinion," said Coleman, responsible for gambling policy and for dealing with gambling addiction in B.C.
Come on. People aren't stupid. Twice as many slots, on-line betting, mega-casinos, VLTs in bingo halls, another $300 million in profits from losers.
That's expanded gambling.
It's equally weird that Brenda Locke, the junior minister for mental health and addictions, isn't responsible for gambling addictions. Some 160,000 people in B.C. are problem gamblers. Their problem is, according to the experts, like any other addiction.
Not my responsibility, says Locke. Coleman - responsible for increasing gambling revenues - is also responsible for reducing and treating gambling addiction. (That's much like putting the tobacco manufacturers in charge of reducing smoking.)
So what did they have to say, those Liberals who used to be so strongly opposed to gambling expansion on principle and on practical grounds? Kevin Krueger, for example, was once a fierce gambling critic who urged NDP backbenchers to stand up to their government on the issue. What did he say now?
Krueger - like the rest of the Liberal MLAs - said nothing at all.
Footnote: The BC Lottery Corp. web site attempts to bar people under 19 from betting. Coleman was vague in the method, but it appears that if you enter your name the corporation launches quick electronic searches of other databases to gather information about you. Expect some privacy concerns to be raised..

1 comment:

Gazetteer said...

"....Twice as many slots, on-line betting, mega-casinos, VLTs in bingo halls, another $300 million in profits from losers. That's expanded gambling...."Clearly, Bedford Falls is fading fast and Potterville is rapidly coming into focus. Only thing is, back in 1946 Frank Capra could never have guessed that it would be the Gov't and not a 'warped, frustrated, old man' that would destroy the fabric of civil society in the name of easy money.
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As an aside, is it possible that this bizarre splitting of Ministerial responsibilities may be a strategy to avoid head on criticism? If I remember correctly G. Abbott did this very thing wrt to fish farming when he was attacked by R. Mair the other day.