New irritations are added to our lives every day. The latest is the fact that lottery tickets are on sale virtually everywhere and everywhere you go people in front of you are buying lottery tickets, while you wait and wait. You’ve got a magazine or chocolate bar or a package of razor blades to pay for and you can’t do it because the guy in front of you keeps buying tickets and winning more tickets and buying more tickets and winning again.
The guy could be spending his money on books or food or magazines or razor blades or something that could be improving the quality of his family’s life. Then he wouldn’t be standing at the cash clogging things up for everybody else.
“Winner! Gagnant!,” the machine keeps exclaiming, way too cheerfully, while he keeps buying more tickets with his “winnings” and while you mutter under your breath about the decline of civilization and wonder if you should start ordering your razor blades online and have them delivered.
In such small ways does gambling make life miserable for innocent bystanders. People are addicted to lottery tickets; stores are addicted to selling them. But before you spend too much time condemning these clients of the gambling industry, take a minute to look at who’s setting the example for them.
That’s right. Our governments -- as hooked on gambling as the unsmiling slot-machine feeders you see in the casinos.
Exhibit A: The mayor of Ottawa and the city council -- or at least most members of it -- drooling over the prospect of a big shiny casino being located downtown somewhere (and just incidentally helping to doom the horse racing industry when the slots are taken away from the race track).
The mayor and council could be spending time, not to mention money, on ways to improve the lives of their constituents. Think of infrastructure, roads that don’t cave in, neighbourhoods that work, transit, traffic congestion. Instead, the mayor and council are, figuratively, standing at the counter, waiting for the lottery ticket to pay off.
Carrying the metaphor to its logical conclusion, we, the taxpayers, are the ones behind the counter making the decision. Is the casino a winner or not? We can decide that, either by encouraging the mayor’s casino dream or by frightening him off it. The final council decision will take quite a bit of time and the mayor did not get where he is today by not listening to people.
So the question is, does the casino pay off for us? How does it pay off? Do tourists flock to Ottawa? Remember that some casinos in border cities have been doing badly. Do customers of the casino in Gatineau flock back? Do the customers drop big money in local restaurants and stores or do they just stay in the casino? Are there big tax revenues to be had? Are casinos an adornment to the downtown landscape or a drag on it?
No one actually knows. All we really know is that gambling addiction is on the rise, with lots of social costs and that a new casino is certainly not going to reduce those. We have learned, from years of watching the industry develop, that there is nothing classy about casinos. We know that casinos are not really for the high-end, fashionably dressed tourists you see in the advertisements. They are also for people who can’t afford to gamble. Are we doing those people a favour by making it more convenient for them to lose their money?
And are we doing the city a favour by increasing the number of those people?
Those questions don’t seem to concern the mayor and most of the councillors as they stand at the counter waiting for the machine to tell them they are winners, while the rest of us stand impatiently behind wanting them to move on and do something useful.