Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Counting the losers in the government gambling blitz

The government's hypocrisy on gambling is showing again.
It's obvious that the Liberals have smashed their 2001 campaign promise to "halt the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families."
Instead they expanded gambling dramatically. They've done all the things they warned about as evils - adding slots, pushing them into small towns, lifting betting limits and hours, allowing alcohol and ATMS in casinos so people could make bad decisions and then get the cash to follow them up. And, on top of all that, the government launching Internet gambling.
What made it all especially offensive was that in opposition Gordon Campbell and the Liberals said they knew the consequences of gambling - debt, families in crisis, suicides, increased crime.
Even domestic violence and murder, according to Liberal Kevin Krueger.But they rushed to expand gambling anyway.
Gambling is a messy way to make money.
For one thing, those in the business don't like competition. Around the province the government has shut down people running poker tournaments in places like Legions, where people pay an entry fee and place pretend bets. All gambling is supposed to be in casinos, where gamblers can be encouraged to lose much more.
The government devotes more enforcement effort to eliminating competition than to guarding against crimes at legal gambling sites. (Which is one reason for concern over reports that people who sell lottery tickets are winning far more than their fair share of prizes. The B.C. Ombudsman's office is investigating.)
Now Liberal MLA Al Horning has admitted he took part in illegal poker games in a gambling den in his Okanagan riding.
So, what does Premier Gordon Campbell think about Horning's scorn for the gambling laws?
No problem, he told the Kelowna Courier through his spokesman. The activities were before Horning was elected in 2005 and so not relevant. If people had concerns, they should call the police.
It's not quite the moral outrage Campbell summoned up when the NDP wanted to expand gambling, but times change.
After all, the Liberals used to be big on the need for help for problem gamblers.
Now, not so much. Back in 2004, Sue Reid, a Surrey nurse with an interest in gambling issues, submitted a request for the material B.C. Lotteries used to train casino staff in dealing with distressed and problem gamblers.
It's a secret, the Crown corporation said, a pretty good warning sign that all is not right.
After a long battle, Reid, got the material. It showed that troubled gamblers usually don't get much help - at best a brochure and reference to a toll-free help line.
It confirmed casino staff often have to deal with gamblers who are angry, emotional and losing all their money. They see people making repeated trips to ATMs as they try to win back mounting losses. They even see people who wear diapers, so they won't have to give up a slot machine they think might pay off.
But 85 per cent of casino employees surveyed in 2004 - well into the gambling expansion - said it was up the gamblers to find help.
No wonder the government is finally increasing funding for gambling addicts.
Gambling is a tricky business to manage, too. You would think if the government was going to be in the business, it would be running a tight ship.
But last month Australia's biggest gambling operator and a bank based there combined to buy Gateway Casinos, which has seven casinos in B.C.
An Australian newspaper reported the bank liked the opportunity because B.C. was one of the few places in the world that offered casinos a "free ride."
"A very nice kicker to this whole transaction is a dynamic that has been set up at the government level, whereby any capital expenditure you spend on your casinos is refunded by the government," a bank spokesman said. "So there is, specific to this region of the world, a very attractive environment for a casino operator."
No wonder the Liberals used to think it was a good idea to steer clear of the gambling business.
Footnote: The financial institution, Macquarie Bank, isn't just interested in gambling in B.C. It's the owner of the Sea-to-Sky Highway project and hydro projects in the province and is interested in health-care private-public partnerships.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Safe injection, bad research and the media

We're not great in the media at reporting on health and science issues, with, as always, a few exceptions like The Globe and Mail's Andre Picard.
And we demonstrated the weakness this week with a story that produced headlines like "Safe injection site a failure, study finds.'
The study attacking Vancouver's safe-injection site contradicted all the serious research projects that had found improvements in health outcomes, community safety and other benefits.
The study involved no new research and came from an online journal that has published two issues and is funded by the U.S. Justice Department, which opposes harm reduction.
Read more at Pacific Gazette and CathieFromCanada.