Abandon Ontario's casino plans

  • March 20, 2012

An indisputable fact about casinos is that they hurt people. Not all people, of course, and perhaps not even the majority of people. But as sure as a roulette wheel spins, the casino business causes personal harm to land on some gamblers.

An important duty of government is to protect its citizens. We spend billions of dollars on such safety nets as policing, social programs and health care because society accepts a collective responsibility to look out for one another and then entrusts government to implement policies to make that happen. So it stands to reason that governments should not be supporting any type of high-stakes gambling business that can harm citizens.

Yet governments across North America are being seduced by the lure of easy money and raking in huge gambling profits that once went to organized crime.  The latest to up its ante in this specious game is the cash-poor Ontario government of Dalton McGuinty. It recently announced plans to “modernize” its gambling strategy by permitting more casinos in big cities, particularly Toronto, and by taking its lucrative lottery business online.

The province needs a cash infusion to help reduce a $16 billion deficit and to help pay the runaway costs of health care and education. So it will permit the soulless business of institutionalized gambling into Ontario’s big cities, where a blackjack table will be within a bus ride for hundreds of thousands of city dwellers. The plan calls for 29 gambling centres by 2018 that, along with other gaming, should pick the pockets of unwitting gamblers to the tune of $1.3 billion per year.

But more croupiers will also mean more gambling addiction, more neglected children, more broken marriages, more financial ruin and more crime, to name the most common social ills wrought by casinos. The problem with large-scale gambling, as Cardinal Thomas Collins said, is that “it can easily absorb individuals into a world of illusion” as they try to solve financial woes by hitting the jackpot. The media makes front-page news of occasional big winners while tragic stories of those who suffer financial and emotional ruin go untold.

“We need to be very, very careful about expanding gambling,” Collins said. “Gambling can be very addictive for some individuals. But governments can also become addicted to gambling revenue — that is no solid foundation for government policy.”

The government contends gambling dollars are needed to pay the high cost of social programs. But that spin ignores the ethical issue of funding good works by immoral actions. Many of the wallets emptied in casinos belong to people who can ill afford to be there.

Governments have a moral duty to protect citizens, not prey on them. Building more casinos is short-sighted policy that should be abandoned.

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