Money, money, money

The moral spiral continues in Ontario, helped along by a government more concerned with revenue than dealing with its spending problem.

The Toronto Star landed with a thud on our desk earlier this week and emblazoned on its front page was the headline Duncan’s big gamble. Coverage was thorough and suggested the overhaul will include a new casino in Toronto, lotto tickets for sale at big box stores while online gambling will be endorsed and promoted. Over a billion dollars in potential revenue is expected to flow back to the province when the transition is complete.

Our cynicism is palpable, considering that paltry $1 billion will still leave the province short some $15 billion in deficit spending each year. It’s insulting on many levels.

Before getting into this subject too deeply we should likely confess gambling is not our thing. Time at the slots for a social engagement is limited to whatever tokens the host graciously supplies. Our role at poker parties is to feed the pot, not take it home, and typically lottery tickets we buy are purchased as an amusement for an evening rather than a habit. Draws or tickets to support a charity close to home we find hard to resist. While we aren’t much for gambling, we aren’t righteously opposed to it, preferring to let others make their own choices as is their right.

Governments however, have become too addicted to gambling.

It was not long ago that Centre Wellington Township was gripped in a battle over whether it would host the racetrack in Elora along with the slot machines that would be the base for its purses, financial cuts to various government bodies and its host. The outcry at that proposal pitted neighbour against neighbour, and there remain residual effects today.

For the province to now consider rescinding the funding model on which that plan was based is heartless – and points to the desperation of a government that can’t give up spending.

Centre Wellington, accustomed to handsome gambling cheques each quarter, might find itself rethinking the logic of having gamblers pay for its infrastructure. Senior township officials have admitted privately to us in the past that without slots revenue, bridge and road programs would be in jeopardy. We view the township’s reliance on gambling cheques for infrastructure much the same as a gambler pulling a slot handle or rolling dice in craps hoping to make a mortgage payment. Should the funding model collapse entirely or wither up over time, residents will be affected by increased taxes to offset that loss of gambling revenue.

In addition to the impact on township coffers, there is the very real negative impact on horse industry people. With ample-sized purses, the industry has flourished recently and in few places is that more evident than in Wellington County. The horse industry has had some good years, but it risks falling into the malaise that caused the province to devise its horse racing rejuvenation plan years ago.

The Liberal government should not forget the store owners either, in its plan to generate revenue at all costs. Corner store varieties and convenience stores sell OLG products, whether scratch tickets, Sports betting or lotto tickets. If the access to ticket sales is opened up to big box stores and other venues, has anyone thought of the impact on the little store owner, where patrons drop in once a week for their ticket fix? There are far reaching ramifications here for small towns and neighbourhoods lucky to still have a corner store.

The drum needs to be beaten again for the poor souls who are susceptible to gambling problems. If what we have read is close to accurate, there will be few places to escape the allure of easy money courtesy of government sanctioned gambling. The social problems arising from addicts have a cost, too, which should not be overlooked.

Perhaps the scariest part of the Star article was a quote from the Ontario Finance Minister stating “People gamble. Prohibition doesn’t work.”

We can only imagine his next steps for revenue generation with that kind of ethos.