Click and spend

The announcement that Ontario Lottery and Gaming intends to open up its gambling venue to on-line gamers got us thinking about some sage words from a long time ago.

It went something like “Never go into a business that relies on the hardship of others” and it was some fatherly advice having to do with an opportunity to go into partnership in a bar business. Luckily, that never advanced past the point of casual conversation, but the original advice stuck and it has been expanded on our part to suggest that any business lines we engage in have to deliver real value to customers.

There is no secret that OLG has poured a lot of money into Centre Wellington Township. Arguably, without that revenue, many of the large projects requiring township funds in the past few years would simply not be possible. Certainly the arts community has benefited immensely from the pool of dollars generated through the slots. Whether those funds are direct dollars and cents or not, the cash cow in Elora has taken the pressure off the tax base.

Many of the curses promised to be heaped upon Centre Wellington if the slots went ahead have not come to pass. Nightwalkers and a run on Depends so gamers can keep gambling have been relegated to urban legend status. Kids have not been left abandoned in the parking lot while parents fritter away the rent money. That is not to say there have not been some social consequences as a result of the slots.

And perhaps that is where we worry about this latest on-line initiative. Sure, gaming is on line already in other jurisdictions and by virtue of the Internet’s vast reach, those inclined may well be already participating. According to the OLG press release, an estimated $400-million per year is already being spent on unregulated, on-line gambling. But for a government to profit handsomely from sucker bets, just does not sit well with us.

That brings us to some other advice from another great old guy, who wondered aloud when the slots issue came up if it was up to us to be our brother’s keeper. Some would argue it is.

As it is now, there is at least a bit of a sober second thought required because patrons have to drive to a gambling hall. With the on-line version, it’s pretty simple to fire up the computer and click away at the bank account. It seems too easy, bordering on convenient.

Further to this point, as mentioned in last week’s editorial on non-tax revenues, there is great risk in tangling up the finances of government with these non-tax income streams. A time will come where the true cost of providing government services will be virtually impossible to quantify.

Some would argue we passed that point of no return some time ago. In the meantime, click and spend appears poised to take the notion of easy money one step further.