The city of Toronto and the province of Ontario are currently embroiled in a debate about casinos; indeed, as I write this I’m listening to CBC Radio’s Kathleen Petty host the mid-day call-in show Ontario Today. Today they’re featuring Rod Phillips, president of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). The callers are raising some great issues and the OLG is responding with typical bureaucratic rhetoric. Typically my blood is boiling.*
I’ve visited casinos on two occasions and played lotteries a few times, and without exception I’ve felt ripped off, as if I’ve spent $5 on a piece of paper that simply goes in the bin. No fun. No novelty. No gain. In fact, the one time I did win money on the slots ($12), I shoved it back into the machine only to lose $7. Imagine if I bet more. Imagine if I used my credit card.
What else was strange about the casino experience was the creepy feeling of being watched and intimidated. I literally huddled with my friends so I didn’t stand out. Does this make me a chicken, a wuss, a lightweight? If it does, so be it.
What’s creepier, however, is the line we are being fed by the OLG’s TV ads; that lottery and gaming money helps community centres and hospitals, implying that without the money you gamble away small towns will suffer. Let’s examine this: You have, say, $1,000 cash in your pocket. You go to a casino, gamble, and ultimately lose it all. The casino gets most of it and the OLG gets the remainder to distribute among various charitable groups.
My question is this: if that $1,000 is supposed to benefit charities, then why not give it directly to them? If not through taxes then by donation so you’d get a tax receipt)? These organizations are supposed to be supported by our tax dollars anyway; why are desperate people targeted to fund this scheme? We are fed a dream of winning the lottery, but so few do. The odds of winning are ridiculously low; indeed, I’d wager they’re in favour of the house. Yet people still bite in a bid for financial freedom and security. Ironically, they are likely the same people who are swimming in debt and bereft of savings. Why not take that $5, $10, $1,000 that you were going gamble and stick it in a high-interest savings account? Even at 1 per cent interest, you’ll be more ahead than you’d be at the roulette wheel.
Fun? Only if you own the joint.
*I actually wrote this on Wednesay, January 23, 2012, but I was listening to the show. Honest. Deadlines, appointments and falling asleep . . . well, you get the idea.