Manitoba is hooked on gambling. No, I’m not talking about the NDP’s bizarre understanding of balanced budgets, or the risk of relying too much on federal transfer payments… I’m talking about the actual gambling, specifically the casinos.
The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) has a website called GetGamblingFacts.ca. This is part of the concept that there is nothing the least bit ridiculous about a government that runs gambling while telling people about the dangers of gambling; the AFM is of course a government entity, not a not-for-profit organization. It began as The Alcoholism Foundation of Manitoba, to allow beer to once again be sold in Manitoba. (The beer parlours were government-run and were for white men only, but that’s a whole other story.)
So basically, the founding purpose of the AFM was to justify the government’s vice rackets, beginning with alcohol, and being joined later by tobacco and gambling. If prostitution were legalized, I would imagine the AFM would be tasked with creating a program for problem johns. The AFM also does work with illegal narcotics addictions and other important issues such as impaired driving and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, so I wouldn’t want you to think that they are simply apologists for the government.
The point here is that the provincial government is in charge of telling people not to use the services of the provincial government. In any other matter, this would be considered a gross conflict of interest. There are rules for doctors, lawyers, real estate agents and most other professions to prevent situations where an individual would be tempted to corrupt their motivation based on a differing interest. But the provincial government is rife with conflicts of interest, to the point where almost every government action has an equal reaction. This can be extended far beyond vice; consider Elections Manitoba, which is tasked with maintaining fair elections, but which can be easily influenced by whichever political party stands to be benefitted by an unfair election. Or Manitoba Hydro, which is mandated to provide low cost power to Manitobans, but is also expected to incur new costs due to political decisions (Bipole III and paying water royalties to the government); Hydro cannot raise its domestic rates, but cannot override costly government mandates.
But gambling is the most obvious example, because I have a government that says on one website that I may have a gambling problem, while another website tells me that there’s an extra $20,000 in cash and prizes at the casino in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. To me, this entire system is unethical. The Manitoba Government collects $658 million in revenue from gaming in a province where approximately 5% of the adult population is estimated to have a moderate to high risk of gambling addiction. AFM does not seem to have statistics of how many Manitobans use VLTs, Casino slots, and Casino dice/card games; they do have stats of each, but that does not hint at the total. They consider raffle tickets to be the same type of gambling as slot machines, which means that when I buy tickets for a silent auction at a social I’m a gambler, as are 85.6% of the Manitoba population as of 2006. But obviously this does not give us any indication of the true number of gamblers. Since lottery tickets, pools, and raffles are recorded as costing the least amount per month at $5-8 on average, I would much rather know the percentage of Manitobans who participate in all other types of gambling. (Sources: http://www.problemgambling.ca/EN/Documents/GP_Manitoba.pdf and http://www.afm.mb.ca/documents/ManitobaGamblingandProblemGambling2006.pdf)
Either way, one third of problem gamers are from the lowest income group. This means that a large number of the people who can least afford to gamble are gambling far more than they can afford. And the next largest group of problem gamblers is the second lowest income level. Over half of gamblers with a moderate to heavy risk of problem gambling make less than $40,000 a year.
So what is the solution? Ban gambling altogether? Well, not altogether… for one thing, raffles are a big way for organizations such as the Lions Club to raise money to serve communities. For the Lions Club of East Kildonan, we make the majority of our money from raffles, and every cent of those funds goes directly to worthy causes (Lions pay all overhead and administration costs out of their own pockets); this is work that should be allowed to continue. And lottery tickets, while not something I enjoy purchasing, seem to be a favourite and less expensive form of gaming for a majority of Manitobans. The problem comes from VLTs and Casinos, where more money is spent per person.
Do we need to close our casinos? I’m not sure… I wouldn’t miss them, but I’m not sure I’m in the majority. But there are changes that could be made to how our casinos operate:
1. Eliminate higher coin slots. There is no acceptable reason for loonie or toonie slots.
2. Prevent the use of more than once machine at a time by an individual. A personal cannot sit at a table in a restaurant and drink three bottles of beer at the same time; why can a person play three slot machines at the same time? Isn’t this an indicator of problem gambling?
3. Reduce hours of availability for casinos and VLTs or set spending or time limits for gaming. If the gambling cost can be reduced by lower bet levels and limitations on the number of machines a person can use, further reductions can be achieved by lowering the amount of time a person can spend gambling. Hours of operation is simple to change, but time limits would be more difficult to enforce, and could involve a token system where only so many can be purchased, or a ticket system that operates similar to a bus transfer; an employee would be required to check tickets for expiration at predetermined intervals. This is a little like drinking in a bar; after so many drinks, you are supposed to be cut off. There is no reason why this should not be extended to gambling.
The Manitoba government likes to defend its gambling policy by saying that giving the money to indigenous groups makes everything okay. That does not make it okay. Lives are ruined by problem gambling, sometimes leading to bankruptcy, divorce, and suicide. The Manitoba government should be working to reduce gaming; there is no other way to reduce problem gambling.