Saturday, March 28, 2009

Campbell's 'province of losers' warning comes true

Should a responsible government really be trying to entice people into casinos to chase their lottery losses on slot machines?
Especially when the "special offer" is running at the same time as the B.C. Medical Association is warning about the impact of gambling addiction on thousands of British Columbians - almost the identitcal number, in fact, addicted to drugs?
You might have seen the ads. B.C. Lotteries is encouraging people to take their losing lottery tickets into a casino or mini-casino. You can exchange to $20 worth of losing tickets a day.
It's remarkably irresponsible and destructive. Especially from a government that has acknowledged the damage done by gambling, even while breaking its promise not to ramp up betting in the province.
B.C. Lotteries has always had the objective of recruiting additional gamblers every year. The more people who buy lottery tickets or bet online with the corporation or go to casinos, the more the government takes from their pockets. (And the more people whose lives will be damaged addiction.)
But this is a new, nasty twist. Lottery tickets are a less harmful form of gambling. Even with scratch and lose tickets, it's a dull, slow experience. People are less likely to lose control.
Slot machines are designed and developed, at great expense, to be addictive, to keep people gambling for longer periods and to make them want to come back for more. The companies hire psychologists and watch people in casinos to see how different patterns of flashing and ringing bells keep them betting. They test different patterns and symbols on the spinning wheels.
And the companies are very good at their work. Today's slot machines are called the crack cocaine of gambling.
It's a dangerous idea to encourage people to switch from a few lottery tickets to the much more dangerous form of gambling.
The casinos would like the idea. The lottery corporation - and the government - would make more money. But more lives will be wrecked. That is a simple fact. People who might never have taken that first step into the local bingo hall to play a VLT - that's what slots are today - will fall into addiction or problem gambling.
But that's part of the government's plan for the lottery corporation. Its business plan, released last month along with the budget documents, has a number of objectives. The corporation wants to increase the percentage of the adult population who gamble steadily over the next several years.
And it hopes the average gambler will lose more - rising from about $725 last year to about $810 each by 2011.
It's business.
But it's a damaging business. The B.C. Medical Association report is worth a read at It has important, practical recommendations on ways to reduce the toll all forms of addiction are taking, starting with the need to treat addiction as a health issue, not a police problem or moral failing.
Gambling is part of the problem. The BCMA found research indicates 33,000 British Columbians have a severe gambling problem. That number more than doubled between 2002 and 2005, as the government rapidly gambling in the province, particularly the number of slot machines in large and small communities.
Another 128,000 people have a moderate gambling problem.
By comparison, 33,000 people have problems with illicit drugs.
None of this is surprising. Premier Gordon Campbell, in the 2001 election campaign, vowed to halt the expansion of gambling. The government made gambling money by turning its citizens into a province of losers, he said.
Kevin Krueger, now a cabinet minister, was even direct and passionate. Alllowing gambling to expand meant divorce, crime and even deaths, he said. It was immoral and destructive.
But then the Liberals were elected. The lottery corporation looked like a good way to boost government revenues. The casino companies were lobbying hard to be allowed to go bigger and move into smaller communities. They wanted people to drink while they gambled, so they would lose more.
The government decided the principle wasn't worth the price and launched a massive gambling spree. Those people whose lives fell apart because of gambling were acceptable collateral damage. They should have called the help line or decided to bar themselves from casinos.
Today, it is encouraging people to make the jump from lotteries to slots with a special offer to losers. The principles have really been tossed aside.


Anonymous said...

Your essay ends with the supposition that this government once had some principals. Exactly which principals are you talking about? Kevin Kreuger was right (then). What do he and his brethren have to say now that the lives of so many British columbians have been turned into cheap commodities with respect to gambling, liquor, health and education, and many other of the ministries that this money-worshipping government has "Liberalized".

Anonymous said...

Enticing people into casinos by the government, to profit by government is obscene. They are fully aware that the lion's share of profit is made from people that are addicted.

As the addicts go bust----they have to keep getting new methods to bring in the naive to get more hooked.

It's not right.

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