Church attacks governments’ gambling plans

By on September 1, 1998

The debate over gambling is far from over at least in Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

While many Albertans will be voting in municipal plebiscites this fall regarding whether to keep video lottery terminals, the provincial government has not committed to recognizing the plebiscites. In an effort to appease critics, Premier Ralph Klein announced that $130-million of the estimated $800-million the province expects to take in this year from all forms of gambling will go to improve roads.

In Nova Scotia, Anglican bishops have expressed concern over gaming in their province, which saw an increase of $25 million last year over the previous year’s total of more than $300 million.

In Ontario, the situation is complicated by the government’s decision to permit slot machines instead of VLTs, despite the claim by many critics that they are just as addictive. Now a U.S. company that was contracted to provide $48.5 million worth of VLTs has launched a lawsuit against the province due to the cancellation of the order.

In a written statement on behalf of the church in Ontario, Archbishop Percy O’Driscoll lauded the government’s decision to cancel VLTs but said he fears “replacing the VLTs with slot machines will only lead to very similar problems.”

The archbishop pointed to studies which have found that 50 per cent of gambling revenues come from the five per cent of the population who are problem gamblers. “Rather than working to put in place equitable systems and policies of taxation, your government is going to play upon the addiction of the small part of the population who have major problems with gambling,” he said.

“…There is a high cost in crime which communities pay from loan-sharking and extortion to child abandonment.”

Wayne Olson, spokesman for the Ontario Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, decries government plans to put slot machines into race tracks across the province.

Mr. Olson said racing supports jockeys, trainers, horses and agricultural activities while slot machines are “pure gaming,” providing revenues of $60,000 to $70,000 per machine per year.

He also sees a bigger issue.

“Only 10 to 20 per cent of the revenues go to any sort of charity work,” he said. “Basically this is an inefficient way to raise money, let alone any ethical questions. It gives the government a predatory view of citizens as suckers or marks and has serious implications for creating a healthy society.”

Mr. Olson charged American companies are providing consultants, systems and machines “that are imported lock, stock and barrel. The second most powerful lobby in the United States, after the tobacco companies, is the gaming industry.”

But Bernie Stuetz of the Ontario Lottery Corporation says no decisions have yet been made on what cut charities will get from four planned new casinos. Under the old roving Monte Carlo casinos, up to 90 per cent of revenues could go to cover costs, he said.

Elske Kuiper, vice-chairwoman of the community ministries board of the Diocese of Toronto is dismayed by the race-track decision.

“The government is reneging on its promise not to expand gambling in communities that voted against it,” she said. “This is their way of getting it in through the back door. They say they are listening to the people but they’re not on this issue. The government has no business making gambling revenues a major priority in the face of evidence that gambling expansion is having dire effects on communities and families.”

Norah Bolton, a deputy warden at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Toronto, reports that her church receives a monthly glossy publication, Ontario Gaming Journal, that discusses charity casinos and how to become involved in them. The Journal is published by a consortium of gaming businesses and sent unsolicited to charities.

“We have never been involved in gambling, nor will we. We did not ask for this publication, yet it comes every month,” Ms. Bolton said. “No one even opens it. It goes straight into the recycling bin.”

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