Saturday, April 24, 2004

Liberals admit gambling broken promise

VICTORIA - It's just business, Tony Soprano likes to say.
Which is pretty much the way the B.C. government has decided to approach gambling.
Not entirely. The government could make more money with VLTs in bars, for example, but instead relies on Keno, a less addictive, slower way of losing money. (Although you have to wonder about the morality of trying to get people to gamble while they drink.)
And while gambling has been expanding like crazy in B.C., it has still not gone nearly as far as some other provinces.
But the Liberals' basic approach is clear - gambling is just business.
It wasn't always so. The Liberals fought expanded gambling when they were in opposition. And their New Era campaign promise was clear - a Liberal government would halt gambling expansion.
Instead they've done the opposite. By the end of this year the government will have doubled the number of slots in the province and moved them into bingo halls across B.C. The government's current plan calls for it to take $1 billion from gamblers within four years, double the profits when they were elected.
And the government's plan also calls for BC Lottery Corp. to persuade 200,000 more people to become regular gamblers, while getting everyone who buys lottery tickets or goes to casinos to lose more each month.
Solicitor General Rich Coleman, to his credit, has acknowledged that the Liberals have broken their campaign promise. "I'm not going to say that none of this is expanded gaming, because some of it is," he said in the legislature. "It is by virtue of the fact that we took what was structured gaming and tried to make it so that we gave the corporation the envelope within which to operate in order to actually do its business."
It's just business, in other words, although a business operating within some public interest limits.
But it's risky business. Letting a corporation "do its business" in the gambling world means leaving it to recruit more and more gamblers, while encouraging everyone who already gambles to lose more and more money.
Both goals are part of the BC Lottery Corp.'s business plan. We'll pump more than $3 billion in to government-run slots in B.C. this year, and the corporation hopes to increase that. It has just bought high tech equipment from a Las Vegas company that will give corporation managers in Kamloops the ability to monitor every bet and every turn of the cards at any B.C. casino. "With TableLink PT, profit-critical decisions, such as selecting bonus players, are no longer subject to human observation and guesswork," enthuses Mikohn Gaming Corp., the supplier.
Profit-critical decisions are the most important ones in the business world.
But gambling isn't just another business. Governments run gambling not just because they can make a ton of money, but because it involves serious, unavoidable damage to individuals and families.
None of this is a criticism of the BC Lottery Corp., which is just doing its job of trying to recruit more gamblers - in part through marketing campaigns that pitch gambling as both fun and a solution to your problems.
But the damage done along the way - as the Liberals used to note - is significant.
B.C. has more than 75,000 problem gamblers already; the government's efforts to recruit more gamblers ensures that number will increase every month.
And the next generation of gamblers - and problem gamblers - is already being recruited. A major study released by the McCreary Centre Society found that one-quarter of B.C. youths aged 12 to 17 said they had illegally bought lottery tickets in the last year. Young buyers are attracted by ads, prominent store displays and the chance of an instant win, according to another study of youth gambling.
The money is good. Gambling is on track to equal the forest industry as a revenue source for government.
But the cost is high - too high to treat gambling as just another business.
Footnote: The money is also good for municipal governments. Williams Lake council has just approved a bid for 120 slot machines in a new bingo hall. The town's revenue share is estimated at more than $700,000 a year, the Williams Lake Tribune reports.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really don't see anything wrong with gambling as long as its for adults.