The spectre of widespread legalized gambling facilities operated by provincial governments has outraged faith groups across Canada and several Anglican bishops have called news conferences and confronted politicians to voice their opposition.
Nova Scotia’s Archbishop Arthur Peters and Bishop Fred Hiltz are two of 10 faith leaders who signed a statement that “gambling is an unacceptable and inadequate pillar on which to build a long-term strategy for provincial economic development.”
Their opposition came despite a pledge by Nova Scotia and other provinces that money raised at casinos and from VLTs (video lottery terminals) would go to charities or social programs.
Toronto’s Bishop Terence Finlay wrote a letter to Ontario Premier Mike Harris and another to Mayor Mel Lastman upholding a 1996 resolution of the Synod of the Diocese of Toronto objecting to Bill 75, which legalized casino gambling and video lottery terminals.
“As a Christian people,” Bishop Finlay told the premier, “we strive to uphold values that support the responsible expansion and use of private and public economic resources; values that discourage activities designed solely to increase wealth at the cost of inducing unhealthy forms of behaviour, including addictions, as well as illusory dreams of personal enrichment.”
Elske Kuiper, vice-chair of the community ministries board in the diocese of Toronto, helped spearhead the opposition campaign. She is unimpressed by Ontario’s recent decision to eliminate VLTs, described by many as the most addictive of gambling methods, and to limit the size of casinos.
“This change in tactics is trying to get people to believe that slot machines are a better alternative to VLTs,” she said. “But slot machines are now so sophisticated that there is almost no difference in the two. It’s good that they won’t allow them in bars or restaurants, but those people who are inclined to become addicted will play, whatever machine is there. The government is lying to people that these decisions are an improvement. It’s a desperate grab for approval.”
An insider’s view is expressed by Rev. David Bolton, rector of Grace Church in St. Catharines, Ont., and a chaplain with Niagara Regional Police, which patrols the Niagara Falls casino.
Mr. Bolton is also secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Police Chaplain Association and the group is worried about the wider effects of gambling on a community.
“We were expecting gambling-related suicides, but at least that has not come to pass,” he said in an interview. “However, there has been an increase in prostitution and there have been cases of children left in cars while parents gamble.
“Right now, it is mostly tourists that come here. Eventually, the locals will start coming. And what do I think of that? What one man says of gambling – it is a tree with its roots deep in human misery.”
There are differences, Mr. Bolton notes, between a “penny-a-point bridge game” between friends and what he calls the “something-for-nothing” allure of casino gambling. “It’s a losers’ game,” he says of the latter.