The B.C. government’s idea of putting VLTs on the ferries so people would lose money - on top of the soaring fares - looked at first like a distraction.
The government announced ferry service cuts at the same time. A few headlines about gambling might be preferable to an analysis of the damage done to coastal communities by the service cuts.
There are 12,224 slots machines or VLTs in the province. (They are really the same thing.) They take an average $93,000 each from losing gamblers, or about $1.1 billion a year.
Put 80 on each of the five big ferries - the Spirits and Coastals - and at that rate the gambling machines would pull in $37 million a year, to be shared between BCLC, BC Ferries and any middlemen.
Of course, VLTs on ferries will take in a lot less. Casinos and ‘community gaming centres’ are open up to 24 hours a day. A ferry likely allows about 10 hours of gambling time.
The government’s betting shops attract hardcore gamblers and some addicts, people who lose a lot. And they serve alcohol, which encourages people to make bad decisions and lose more.
Still, ferry VLTs could be a tidy revenue stream.
And the decision would set an important precedent in expanding VLT locations. If ferries are OK, what about BC Place? Resorts? Bars?
Remember, the Liberals ran in 2001 with a campaign promise to halt the expansion of gambling because it would hurt families, damage local economies and create a province of losers, in Gordon Campbell’s words.
There were 2,400 slots in the province then. The government immediately set out to double the number, and then doubled it again to today’s 12,000-plus. The government’s share of gambling losses was about $565 million. Now it’s about $1.1 billion.
The government initially twisted itself in knots trying to deny gambling was being expanded, including a claim new slots would only be introduced in existing or already planned casinos.
But that wasn’t producing enough money from losers. So new casinos were opened and the government pushed ‘community gaming centres’ - bingo halls converted into mini-casinos. There are 19 of them now, with 2,500 VLTs.
There doesn’t seem to be room for expansion.
Maybe this isn’t just about ferries.
The government has claimed keeping VLTs in casinos and gaming centres ensured some controls on the negative effects - addiction, money-laundering, loan-sharking and social damage.
But it’s apparently willing to abandon that principle to move VLTs onto ferries.
Which, given its record of broken promises on gambling, should leave citizens wondering where the money-sucking and addictive VLTs will show up next.