Editorial: Gambling take has a high cost


As the B.C. Lottery Corp. ponders where to put a casino in Victoria, it should also ponder a new Angus Reid poll that suggests Canadians are not particularly enthusiastic about governments expanding their involvement in gambling.

And it should consider that the survey indicates that 26 per cent of Canadians are affected by problem gambling, either personally or because of family or close friends who have gambling problems, and who have suffered “significant economic loss.”

The lottery corporation announced in July that Victoria had won the contest to host the capital region’s second casino, with the View Royal casino remaining the primary gaming site. A site has not been chosen.

Meanwhile, the corporation has announced that the View Royal casino will undergo a major upgrade that will double its size, add a 600-seat entertainment venue, and add 350 more slot machines and electronic games. The plans also include 12 new table games with live dealers, as well as a buffet, casual lounge and bar.

Do we need more gambling? While 63 per cent of Canadians say that provincial government involvement in gambling is “more good than bad,” a poll released by the Angus Reid Institute this week showed that only nine per cent of respondents supported increasing government involvement in gambling, and 38 per cent believe it should be reduced.

Gambling is big money for provincial governments in Canada, bringing in almost $14 billion each year. In B.C., the lottery corporation handed over $1.3 billion to the provincial government in 2015/16, nearly $900 million of which went into general revenues, with the rest divided among several areas, including health, charitable groups and host local governments. About $6 million from the B.C. government’s gambling take this year was diverted to “responsible gaming strategies.”

In 2013, provincial health officer Perry Kendall released a report that said the provincial government should devote more resources to problem gambling. His report said that between 2002 and 2007, the number of British Columbians with the most severe form of problem gambling more than doubled.

The report implied a link between the increase in problem gambling and the increase in “the availability of inherently riskier gambling opportunities, such as electronic gaming machines.”

Kendall was not the first to raise the alarm about the cost of gambling.

In 1997, an opposition MLA chastised the New Democrats for expanding gambling. “The minister talks about how much money she’s going to be able to raise from gambling, when we know that each problem gambler costs the government $30,000 to treat,” said the MLA.

That MLA was Christy Clark, now the premier. If she has forgotten what she said then, perhaps a glance at the Angus Reid poll will refresh her memory.

© Copyright Times Colonist

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