Friday, 16 March 2012

Gambling: Ontario's crackbaby

There has been much handwringing in this town about a plan to restructure the gambling activities of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission.

Harness racers are chomping at the bit because the plan to build a big casino could mean euthanasia for the Rideau Carleton Entertainment Centre. Without the slot and now bingo activity, as well as lucrative incentives from the government, farmers, breeders and racers say it will be the end of harness racing and thousands of horses could be put down and farms sold.

In other parts of the province, the OLG is shutting down racetracks throwing hundreds of folks out of jobs.

This is all because the OLG is not seeing the $800 million worth of gambling dollars it once pocketed. Revenues are way down, to about $100 million and the government is worried about its crackbaby. Governments, after all, count on problem gamblers to fund its hospital operations and other social programs.

So, the thinking goes, building a huge-assed casino downtown in Ottawa would attract more tourists and would wean Ottawans off their dependency on Casino Lac Leamy in Gatineau which is the prime gambling destination in the National Capital Region.

Huh.

I know a little bit about gambling having been a regular visitor to the Rideau Slots for more than 10 years, when I had a job and regular income. Because I only work part time now, I need every penny just to live, so gambling isn't a regular activity anymore. I don't even buy lottery tickets.

I don't think I'm alone.

The real reason that gambling revenues are down is because the economy is in the toilet. People don't have the disposable income they once had because they're paying astronomical utility bills and other expenses. Some families, like mine, are also having to help support grown children who can't find jobs or who are under-employed. Others are supporting elderly relatives.

It's bound to get worse in Ottawa. We've already had a mini-meltdown in the tech sector and there is bound to be blow back from the Harper plan to lay off thousands of public servants.

So changing the gambling strategy isn't going to make a lick of difference, other than putting a bunch of poor horsey sods out of business. Putting a big-assed casino downtown or out in the other "middle of nowhere", as Jann Arden might say -- Scotiabank Place -- makes no economic sense.

If they build-it we will not come.

Not if it means making a choice between eating or pulling the slot arm.

I don't buy the argument about the link between increasing gambling square footage downtown and tourism, either. People don't come to Ottawa as tourists to gamble. They come to see the Parliament Buildings. If they want to gamble, they go to Niagara Falls or Vegas.

The government should spend more time focusing on revving up the economy instead of finding new ways to fleece the general public out of their hard earned shackles.

The whole OLG thing is a nothing more than a smoke and mirrors game, a way to distract us from the real problems in this province.

Governments are a lot like problem gamblers and it's time Ontario got help for its addiction.

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