The oilpatch is in the crapper. The Edmonton Journal had a front-page photo of oilfield workers in Nisku holding a trophy, the top of which featured a steel commode, no doubt fashioned by oilfield fabricating equipment. That more or less makes it official.
People in Red Deer may have legitimate worries for the slowdown’s effects in our local economy, tied as it is to the oilfield service industry. But there’s little cause for alarm in the provincial government, tied as it is to gambling.
Alberta is one of the world’s largest investment sites for energy development, but if you want to go where the real profits lie, it’s in VLT machines.
According to the Canadian Gambling Digest which recently released a report on national gambling statistics, our 24 casinos and 6,000 video lottery machines pump a third more money into government coffers than the oilsands, which is by far the largest component of our energy industry.
In the current budget year, the province expects about $1 billion in revenue from the oilsands. Apparently, that puts it in the crapper.
Gambling, however, is more recession-proof, and is expected put about $1.5 billion into government coffers.
According to the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling, which put out the report, every Albertan aged 18 and over will contribute $871 this year to the government’s bottom line — over and above taxes and fees. That leads the nation by a long shot; the national average is $549.
If you are one of the majority of Alberta adults who doesn’t buy $549 worth of lottery tickets or play the machines for that amount in a year, much less the Alberta average of $871, somebody is spending in spades on your behalf. (Never mind the charity sweepstakes that promise luxury houses or unimaginably worthless sports cars as prizes — these aren’t counted.)
Let’s just set aside the profligacy of the “average” Albertan. We’re entitled to spend our after-tax money as wisely or as foolishly as we please.
Let’s also just hold in memory that a portion of overall spending goes to charities and non-profits. Just remember that government revenues are counted after prizes have been paid out, casinos overhead has been covered, and charities have gotten their cut. What’s left is huge.
What’s left is money that is spent on things gambling revenues were not supposed to be spent on, when Alberta became one of the first provinces in Canada to “legalize” gambling (that is, make it a government-run institution).
Gambling in Alberta was at first called “charity gambling,” in a more innocent time when community halls were built with proceeds and filled with sports equipment for kids (dutifully accompanied with a photo of the local MLA presenting the cheque — as if it were his own money).
Today, gambling is one the government’s most reliable revenue streams after taxation.
And the Wild Rose Foundation, which used to distribute a piddling portion of these revenues, is shut down, so the minister in charge can distribute the money as he cares to (with the local MLA asking to have his picture taken presenting the cheque).
Charities were supposed to be the winners here. But now, the government is distributing less overall to nonprofits, and giving more to the oilpatch.
Which puts gambling profits in Alberta in a pretty crappy light.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.