Gambling must be fair

Governments often get accused of running a crooked ship, but even the Mafia knows better than to pull a bonehead stunt liked the one they’ve tried on Ontario senior Paul Kusznirewicz.

Governments often get accused of running a crooked ship, but even the Mafia knows better than to pull a bonehead stunt liked the one they’ve tried on Ontario senior Paul Kusznirewicz.

He was playing a two-cent slot machine at the government-run Georgia Downs casino recently, when the lights lit up, and the sirens, bells and whistles all went off at once. He’d won the jackpot!

Now, what do you think the jackpot would be on a two-cent slot machine? Well, his win was $42.9 million. Just think for a minute: what are the odds against winning a jackpot that large on a game that only costs two cents to play?

There probably is a number to express the odds buried somewhere deep inside the machine’s electronic bowels, but it is so close to zero that you’d have to conclude the machine was broken if it ever actually paid off.

Which is exactly what happened. Staff at first congratulated a jubilant Kusznirewicz, but soon after informed him there was a malfunction in the machine and no prize would be awarded. To salve the poor man’s disappointment, they gave him four dinner coupons at the casino’s restaurant.

(Technically, a win that big really is impossible on that machine. Apparently, it really was broken. The prize should have been much smaller . . . knock off a few decimal places.)

But instead of staying for a free sandwich, Kusznirewicz went home and called a lawyer. He’s suing for the full prize, plus $3 million for suffering nightmares ever since.

We wish him luck.

Considering the profits that slot machines make for governments, they can afford it.

Now, here’s the deal in casinos, and it applies to every type of gambling you can name, including lottery tickets: people pay real money for a slim-to-none chance at a major cash prize — and try to enjoy themselves as much as possible in the meantime.

If there’s no chance of winning the major prize — even a mathematical one — then you’re running a scam.

The Western Canada Lottery runs the same kind of operation here in Alberta. When they issue a scratch-and-win game, they keep selling tickets even after the major prize has been won and there’s a zero chance of winning it for all subsequent buyers.

Even the Mafia doesn’t do that. They know that all of these kinds of games require suckers to play them, and eventually even Canadians can be expected to wise up and stop buying. Well, OK, maybe not. But you can understand the point.

It’s a matter of honour. You honour the risk your customers take by awarding them their prizes.

The Alberta government is honouring its commitments to pay $40 million in bonuses to its staff, even while facing an illegal deficit to do it.

In the U.S., insurance giant AIG took $170 billion in taxpayer cash — and honoured its commitment to pay its executives multimillion-dollar performance bonuses, even though there was no performance to speak of.

The Ontario Gaming and Lottery Corp. didn’t even offer Kusznirewicz a return of the $60 he put in the machine, seeing as it was broken all that time, and he had no chance of winning.

There’s no honour in that. In the movies at least, the Mafia would understand honour.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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