Lot o’ nightmares

Picture yourself sitting along with 65,000 others in the Rogers Centre waiting for your name to be picked randomly. Now think back to October 2005 when you put down your money to have a chance in Canada’s biggest lottery payout, a Lotto 6/49 draw of $54.3-million. Fifty million tickets were sold, making the odds of winning 1 in 13,983,816. A group of 17 oil workers in Alberta won it. But there are draws where even if 50 million tickets were bought, not one person would have the exact combination of numbers for the top prize.

Yet, every time some individual or group wins a large prize, hopeful ticket purchasers imagine that next time it will be their turn. The idea is that if you have a ticket you have a chance of winning. Many people extend that idea so that if they have multiple tickets then they have many more chances. But how many tickets would any person or group have to buy to increase the odds in their favour? How many trifectas at the racetracks or how many quarters or loonies in a slot machine – the video display terminals now called the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’?

Your spending a few dollars on a chance to win the top prize in one of the many lotteries or other provincially operated forms of gambling is for the provincial government essentially a form of tax revenue collection, with the sweetener that you have a chance – albeit a small one – of getting some money in return.

How can we not consider as predatory the province’s involvement in gambling, given the kind of out of control spending especially among poor people during times of economic hardship such as these? The excuse usually is that people who want to gamble will do it anyway so we, meaning the province, might as well be the ones benefiting from it and using the revenues to benefit charities and other social services.

It is just like a drug kingpin being hailed as a good man in his community because he uses his money to help the poor in his area, including sending neighbourhood kids to school. Except that in reality the lives of many young men are being destroyed and many young women find themselves on the street in order to get the money to buy his drugs.

Does it matter where the money comes from when good is done with it? Does it matter how many lives are being destroyed? Under province-sponsored gambling, excessive spending by vulnerable people is becoming a growing social illness, the extent of which could be seen in a recent report by Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG).

OLG earned a record $6.724-billion in revenue in fiscal year 2011, $400-million more than the previous year, and the highest revenue since 2003. From that $6.7-billion the OLG paid out $2.068-billion to charities and service organizations this year. In a recent news release, OLG Chair Paul Godfrey describes the organization’s payout to charities as “unique among provincial agencies, boards and commissions”.

The government sings its own praises with regard to how much the lotteries benefit charities and the like that help the poor while ignoring the fact that these lotteries themselves are responsible for making and keeping many people poor and in need of the charities which benefit from the lotteries.

Hence, without a trace of irony, Godfrey notes: “The Board of Directors and executive team are very pleased with this year’s results, especially in these challenging economic times.”

That money came from people gambling, some of them, their rent money, their mortgage payments, even the food money for their kids.

Gambling has been called the tax of fools, but is the government justified to tax, even fools, so heavily through these forms of gambling and, in the process, destroy the lives of so many?

By the way, in the OLG’s payout to service organizations and the like, $49-million went to dealing with problem gamblers. A tacit admission of government’s contribution to the growing problem of addiction maybe?

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