Gambling is a sure thing: we lose

The closest I get to gambling is rolling up the rim of my Tims. And yes, I’m invited with true patriot polite fashion, to PLEASE PLAY AGAIN/REESSAYEZ S.V.P.

The closest I get to gambling is rolling up the rim of my Tims. And yes, I’m invited with true patriot polite fashion, to PLEASE PLAY AGAIN/REESSAYEZ S.V.P.

It might be the trace of Methodism which courses through my veins that keeps me away from casinos. Or it could be common sense.

Lotteries are the government’s tax on the poor, sold with the false hope of doing a happy dance and boasts of support for programs often designed to help those most susceptible to gambling in the first place.

And where there’s gambling there is likely corruption. The temptation is too great. One of the many memorable moments in the movie Casablanca is when Captain Renault (Claude Rains) tells Rick that he’s shutting down his café for alleged gambling.

The Captain indignantly declares, I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” A croupier hands him a wad of cash and says, “Your winnings sir!”

“Oh, thank you very much. (loudly) Everyone out at once!”

In recent years abuse has been uncovered in provincial lotteries across Canada. Lottery insiders (ticket sellers, variety store owners, kiosk operators) in Ontario pocketed $100 million between 1999 and 2006, according to Andre Marin, Ontario’s ombudsman. That same year, the government agency spent between $4-6 million to “rebrand” itself and drop the C at the end of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

In 2007 more than 150 employees at the new OLG earned $100,000. Or more.

As recently as 1968, lotteries in Canada were illegal. But the city of Montreal allowed a public lottery to raise money for Olympic installations. The Criminal Code was changed.

Today, vice has become virtue. The end justifies the means. Or does it?

For some, lotteries are an innocent diversion. But most of those who buy lottery tickets can’t really afford them.

Service clubs who run bingo know that the best take is on the night after the welfare cheques are issued.

And in the current economic downturn lotteries are seen as a last resort; a desperate shot at financial salvation when it feels like you’re losing in life.

According to David Just, associate professor of economics at Cornell University, “It’s the Hail Mary.”

And government has this big Cheshire grin. Instead of offering better income tax incentives to support worthy causes and being honest about the odds of winning the big one, government knows that lotteries and casinos are a license to print money.

Whatever happened to ruling with justice and charity towards the weak and powerless?

Lotteries are unjust. The poor are seduced into spending money they don’t have. Lotteries are uncharitable. I’ve got less of a chance of winning than of being struck by lightning.

Casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City take in over four billion dollars a year. What could be done with that kind of money?

Well, if four years at university costs $30,000, it could put 133,000 young Canadians through university. At $1000 a month, you could rent an apartment for 333,333 years. Or we could build 33,333 homes at $120,000 each. That would be good stewardship.

The average casino keeps 18 percent of all bets.

Gambling isn’t gambling after all. It’s a sure thing.

We lose.

Bob Ripley is Senior Minister at Metropolitan United Church in London, Ont.

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