Government and gambling
Do we want to make casino gambling more available in Ontario? Do we know what it will do to the tone of life? Are the citizens demanding it now, or is it just a revenue grab to reduce the provincial debt? The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation tries to make its latest move in this direction sound routine but it deserves scrutiny.
Claims made by politicians supporting the growth of gambling have a dubious sound. Shafiq Qaadri, the Liberal MPP for Etobicoke North, has articulated an enthusiasm that not everyone will share: “I’m looking forward to the long-awaited day when we can inaugurate a Vegas North right here in the riding, bringing tourism, concerts, conferences, activity and buzz.”
Qaadri’s riding includes the Woodbine race track, the site of a promised gambling expansion. It’s near the Pearson Airport, so visitors can come in for a conference at Vegas North and fill their empty hours trying their luck.
While expanding the gambling business in Ontario, the provincial government is also planning to privatize it, handing over operations in the Toronto region to an entrepreneur. It will soon decide which corporation will get this bonanza of new business in a prosperous city. One of the suitors is said to be Caesars Entertainment Corporation, a multi-national conglomerate that operates chains of casinos under four different brands.
Caesars, or one of its competitors, will not be satisfied with a single site. Its platoons of lobbyists will soon be pressuring for more locations. If they succeed, they may be able to make Ontario another New Jersey.
When I think of a new casino I think of gambling addiction. Many in this country will remember the young banker who embezzled $10 million from the CIBC over 18 months to feed his gambling madness, a story told in Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony, by Gary Stephen Ross.
Gambling managers argue that a misadventure like Molony’s is rare. They believe only four per cent of those who play at casinos become addicted. But they do exist. It stands to reason that the number of casinos will increase the number of gambling obsessives, just as more numerous liquor outlets tend to produce more alcoholics.
What is a gambling addiction? It can be a life-destroyer. An extreme case surfaced a few years ago when a New York lawyer, Arelia Margarita Taveras, unsuccessfully sued several casinos for $20 million because they failed to prevent her from losing a fortune at their tables.
She was no simpleton. In 2003, her one-woman practice brought in $500,000 a year. Working seven days a week, she decided to relax with a visit to an Atlantic City casino. Somehow, her gambling spun out of control. Casinos were so glad to have her money they sent limousines to pick her up.
Later, she compared her addiction to crack cocaine: “It creeps up on you, the impulse. It’s a sickness.” At the blackjack tables she would sometimes play all night, at one point subsisting for five days and nights on orange juice and Snickers bars provided by the staff. She brushed her teeth with disposable wipes, to avoid leaving the table. Sometimes she played seven blackjack hands at once, sitting alone with the dealer.
She says her losses totalled nearly a million dollars. She also lost her licence and her law practice, her apartment and the home of her parents. To keep playing she dipped into escrow accounts maintained for clients. She pleaded guilty to grand larceny and received a sentence of three to nine years.
In her lawsuit she claimed the casinos had a duty to notice her gambling problem and cut her off. “They knew I was going for days without eating or sleeping,” Taveras said. “They had a duty of care to me. Nobody in their right mind would gamble for four or five straight days without sleeping.” She spent nearly a year in clinics to treat her addiction.
In reply, the casinos said their workers are trained to spot problem gamblers, who can voluntarily bar themselves from casinos. “This can be a delicate situation, and it comes down to an individual’s personal responsibility,” a witness for the casinos said. “We can only suggest that they receive assistance and provide information how they can obtain help, but it is up to them to commit to seek it.”
Another responsibility, perhaps, lies with provincial politicians. Perhaps they should avoid acting as enablers for profit. It stands to reason that the number of casinos will increase the number of gambling obsessives, writes Robert Fulford.