VICTORIA - The great Galiano Island bingo bust brings to mind that bumper sticker, the one that says "Don't steal, government hates the competition."
In case you've missed the news, the B.C. government sent four undercover enforcement officers to laid-back Galiano to break up a fun once-a-week bingo game for about a dozen seniors.
You can run out of fingers counting off what's wrong with this.
For starters, there's the foolish waste of money.
We're talking about a drop-in bingo game in a small restaurant, with all the money - maybe $150 in a good week - going back to the players. Deb McKechnie, owner of Galiano's Grand Central Emporium, offered seniors a discount on their meals and a chance to socialize while having a few laughs over a game of bingo. There's no earthly reason for government to do anything about this.
But, says Solicitor General Rich Coleman, government had to launch an investigation, because someone complained.
OK. But that's what a telephone is for. You pick it up, call the restaurant and ask the owner about the bingo game. She tells the officer what's going on, he tells her what she needs to do to be within the law.
But that's not what happened. Four people - two police officers, and two gaming enforcement officers - slipped quietly into the restaurant, surreptiously gathered their evidence - and then retired to the Island Time B&B. The oceanfront resort boasts that it's Galiano's only five-star accommodation, with a Gazebo hot tub, cozy quilts and sherry in hand-cut crystal decanters. Winter rates range from $125 to $155 a night.
The next day two of the presumably well-rested officers showed up back at the restaurant and told McKechnie she was busted, and being charged with the unauthorized sale of lottery tickets. She started crying (like most taxpayers who have heard the whole story). The officers warned her that they could have laid criminal charges, but decided just to issue a $288 ticket.
Figure the total cost at something over $2,000, to deal with a harmless attempt to give seniors some weekly fun and attract a few more customers to a small business.
Coleman initially defended the exercise.
But by Monday, he was having doubts. "I'm not particularly thrilled with the story myself," he said. "This on the surface is not great. That's why I've asked them to take a review and come back and explain it to me."
Excess aside, this is just the latest chapter in the government's extremely diligent efforts to make sure that it's the only one who makes money from gambling. Charities have been told to quit selling raffle tickets on the Internet, or hassled because they were auctioning off a quilt without all the proper paperwork.
At the same time the government is pushing ahead full-speed with gambling expansion plan. (Yes, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to halt the expansion of gambling, because it hurt families and caused addictions and other social problems. More fool you for believing them.)
The new budget shows the Liberals will have almost doubled the amount of money they take from losing gamblers by 2008. The government made $540 million from gambling when the Liberals were elected; they're shooting for more than $1 billion by the third year of the current plan.
Partly, that comes from getting current gamblers to lose more. (Thus the decision to allow alcohol in casinos, and the approval for ATMs so people who have lost all their cash can dip into their savings.)
The government is also recruiting more gamblers. It has a plan to persuade 170,000 people who don't gamble now that it would be a good idea for them to start.
Sure, that will be the start of a hellish addiction for several thousand of those people, but that's not a big problem for the government.
Seniors playing fun bingo in a small restaurant on Galiano Island - that's a big problem.
Footnote: Last word to McKechnie. "I'm a small-business person really trying to stay alive and my taxes that I have to borrow money to pay are going to operations like this? I'm basically running a small business in hard times, open from 5:30 in the morning . . . seven days a week." Sounds like she should have been a LIberal voter - up until now.