Wednesday, October 13, 2004

On-line betting Liberals' latest gambling betrayal

VICTORIA - I try to be kind, at least in print, but the Liberals look dead sleazy on gambling.
They said gambling was morally wrong, and destroyed families. They promised - in writing - that they would halt the expansion of gambling. Gordon Campbell said if he got the a chance he would go farther, and cut back gambling in B.C.
He's done the opposite. This month alone we get news of another new mega-casino and the introduction of government-backed on-line betting.
"I want to build an economy based on winners, not losers, and gambling is always based on losers,'' Campbell said before the election. "The only way government makes money on gambling is because you lose it.''
Now the government is working as hard as it can to make more British Columbians losers.
Take on-line gambling, introduced this week with no public announcement. Apparently that long walk to a lottery outlet was stopping too many people from losing their money by betting on sports events. There are 4,500 places to buy lottery tickets in the province, after all, one for every 700 adults.
So the government decided to let people bet on games from their homes, offering a slick Internet service.
Everyone changes their mind on some things, based on new information or changing circumstances. Governments can be expected to break promises, to abandon policies.
But we're talking about abandoning principles. Campbell and the Liberals opposed a big government gambling operation because it was wrong. They said it created gambling addicts, hurt families and turned people into losers.
It's hard to trust anyone who will trade principles for money.
That's what it looks like the Liberals have done. They haven't claimed some revelation that led them to decide it was all right to take money from the desperate, gullible and addicted. They haven't justified the abandonment of principle. They've just gone ahead, pushing slots on communities, working to recruit more people as gamblers, and looked for ways to increase the amount the average citizen loses.
The latest tactic is Internet gambling, something that use to be terrible when private companies in some offshore haven ran the games. Now it's the government running the game, and everything is fine. Gambling on the Internet is just like banking online, BC Lotteries says.
The government's new Internet gambling venture lets people bet on sports events, without leaving their homes. In the interests of responsibility, people are only allowed to lose up to $70 a week on line. That can't hurt, can it? The government hopes that within a couple of years people will be losing $10 million a month online.
You used to have to make a choice before you could gamble - drive to a casino, or stop at a lottery ticket kiosk. The person with a problem could avoid temptation. No more; the government is bringing it into their homes.
I'm not a moralist, and defend peoples' right to make bad choices.
But there is something reprehensible about a government that knows taking money from gullible or desperate gamblers is wrong, and is hurting families, but does it anyway.
When the Liberals were elected, promising to stop the expansion of gambling, there were 2,400 slot machines. They will have more than doubled that number by the end of the year. The government doesn't think enough of us are gamblers, even though about 1.9 million British Columbians place bets through the BC Lottery Corp. each month. They want to use advertising to recruit another 200,000 gamblers over the next three years. If it all works they'll pluck $1 billion from the public's pockets, twice as much as when the took over.
And they know it's wrong, but do it anyway.
We all make mistakes, and some of them have bad consequences. But this isn't a mistake, it's a plan. A plan that, as Gordon Campbell said, sets out to turn British Columbians into losers.
Footnote: The government's leap into Internet gambling comes after it banned charity raffle ticket sales on the Internet, even though established hospitals and other agencies had sold tickets online for several years. It's illegal for a charity to sell raffle tickets on the Internet; it's legal for government to run a betting shop.

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