• Number of active gamblers in BC - buying lottery tickets or gambling at least monthly - increased 350,000 since 2007 to 1.9 million.
• BC Lottery Corp service plan goal for coming fiscal year - recruit more than 58,000 new regular gamblers. (Buying lottery tickers or going into a casino at least one a month.)
• Gambling losses per capita - all ages - in 2005, $384 a year. This year, $468.
• Average gambling losses per BC adult this year $718; goal for next year $725. Part of BC Lotteries plan.
• Average loss by the 4.6 per cent of problem gamblers, $4,060 a year, according to this week's Provincial Health Officer's report.
The stats above are almost all from the Crown corporation’s service plan. Each year, it sets out to recruit a certain number of new gamblers and to increase the amount each person loses.
That’s why Robert Luongo is part of the marketing plan. It’s why VLTs have been installed in “gaming centres” around the province.
It’s why ATMs, which were once banned from B.C. casinos so losers wouldn’t empty their bank accounts, were approved by the Liberal government.
Just as it’s why the government lifted the ban on alcohol on casino floors. The more people drink, the more they lose.
Online gambling was introduced in 2004 with a $70 weekly loss limit to protect people from drunkenly or stupidly sitting in front of their computers losing all their money. The government nudged that up to $120, and then in 2009 raised the weekly loss limit to $10,000.
B.C. Lotteries is doing its job. Its mandate is to increase profits. That means recruiting new gamblers every year, and increasing the average amount each person loses, year after year. It means targeting the really big losers.
And the government has changed policies to help the corporation achieve those goals.
This, of course, under the party that pledged not to expand gambling in B.C.
"I want to build an economy based on winners, not losers, and gambling is always based on losers," Gordon Campbell said. "The only way government makes money on gambling is because you lose it."
Then Kamloops MLA Kevin Krueger said gambling expansion was immoral. "The people it hurts the most are the ones we have a responsibility to protect, such as the poor, women and abused families."
Of course, those two aren’t around.
But Christy Clark is. When the NDP started talking about a Vancouver casino and Clark was in opposition she was dead set against any gambling expansion.
"Does this government not realize that every dollar that they pull from the economy is another dollar that the consumer won't be spending here in British Columbia?" Clark asked. "This is money that won't be going to your local grocery store, clothing store or gas station."
Extensive research showed gambling expansion would be especially bad for women, she said.
"Those studies all there that tell us over and over again that expanding gambling has a deleterious effect on women's health, on their personal safety and on their economic stability," she said. "Based on those studies, we know that."
Gambling profits, or people’s losses, help the government cover expenses.
But the costs, for some 160,000 people who are problem gamblers or at risk of problems, are high. As they are for communities, in health care and policing social problems.
Government isn’t going to get out of the gambling business. It wants the money from all those losing bets citizens place in mini-casinos, all those foolish scratch-and-lose lottery ticket purchases.
But it’s long past time that the permanent campaign to recruit more gamblers, and take more money from each one, was replaced with a responsible gambling policy. The recommendations in the Provincial Health Officer's report offer a good place to start.