Govern­ment and gam­bling

National Post (National Edition) - - EDITORIALS - ROBERT FUL­FORD Na­tional Post robert.ful­ford@utoronto.ca

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.

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