Why government should stay in gaming

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WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENT 
GLOBE AND MAIL

Why government should stay in gaming

BY WILLIAM RUTSEY

WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2005

UPDATED AT 12:16 AM EDT

Many people, including the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, have raised serious questions about government participation in gaming in Canada.

The stories about losses associated with problem gaming are heart-wrenching and troublesome. They are real, and have affected the health and well-being of families. It doesn't matter what the statistics say about the percentage of individuals directly affected by problem gaming; one person or one family involved is one too many.

We in the industry have an obligation to provide safe and secure gaming venues for all our customers and take our responsibilities very seriously to assist those individuals who may be playing beyond their limits. But this is not an easy or straightforward undertaking: to be able to help individuals address their own personal dependence challenges.

Research and treatment are essential to combat all forms of self-destructive behaviour. The gaming industry takes a leading role in this, which is why, for instance, Ontario allocates $36-million annually to problem gambling research, treatment and prevention.

To say that gaming in Canada has been introduced with "little public debate" is not the case. As The Globe editorial correctly stated last week, the federal government changed the law more than 35 years ago to allow governments to conduct gaming and ceded the right exclusively to the provinces 20 years ago. Provincial governments of all political stripes have publicly consulted extensively regarding the regulation and management of gaming.

The evidence shows that government is already doing what most Canadians expect of it. People want this entertainment choice - as borne out by the 75 per cent of adult Canadians who participate, by the $7-billion that funds programs such as health care and education and by the 50,000 people it employs (more than 100,000 if you include horse racing).

For those morally or emotionally opposed to any activity, be it "big box" development, same-sex marriage or gaming, no amount of study, review or consultation is ever sufficient unless it achieves their fundamental objective, which is to proscribe behaviour and deny availability.

Provincial governments play the twin roles of regulator (in accordance with the law) and beneficiary (in accordance with the general sentiments of Canadians that gaming should be controlled by government and that the majority of the proceeds be directed to public revenues, similar to their attitudes regarding the control, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages).

A primary purpose for government involvement in gaming is to raise non-tax revenues from a number of sources, including redirecting economic activity from the underground economy, repatriating revenue from foreign tourist destinations and creating new tourism spending. The

Globe editorial quoted average annual adult gaming spending ($481 nationally, $641 in Alberta), which comes out to $1.30 to $1.75 a day (about what the average Canadian spends for a coffee).These revenues are no more regressive than taxes levied on tickets to sports and entertainment events or the revenues from the sale of alcoholic beverages, and may be less so. Notwithstanding Globe assertions, the fact is that the average casino gaming patron is slightly wealthier and better educated than the general population.

The source of The Globe's contention "that 36 per cent of the revenue in Ontario's casinos came from the 5 per cent of gamblers with addictions" is the recently published The Demographic Sources of Ontario Gaming Revenue. This estimate, to use the words of the report's authors, is "very tentative." According to the report, "the findings concerning gambling expenditures are tentative. ..... The proportion of revenue from severe problem gamblers is very tentative. ..... Reported expenditures did not match up to actual revenues." This, together with the authors' estimates of problem gaming being as much as 140 per cent greater than other studies, raisesserious doubts regarding the conclusions drawn.

To put the findings in perspective, the Report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, prepared by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, estimated that less than 4 per cent of gross daily casino revenues are attributable to problem gamblers.

If history has taught us anything, it's that prohibition or severely limiting access doesn't work. It just drives activity underground and criminalizes the normal responsible social behaviour of the vast majority of people. Personal responsibility and freedom of choice are heartfelt, long-standing Canadian values.

William Rutsey is president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association.

© Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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