Cardinal Thomas Collins
TORONTO – Citing the addictive and potentially destructive nature of gambling, Cardinal Thomas Collins has expressed "real concerns" about an Ontario government proposal to open more casinos and slot machines and to take its lottery business online.
"We need to be very, very careful about expanding gambling, because it can cause great social problems," he said.
"We already have many stresses upon families, and gambling can add to that. Gambling can deprive families of the money they need to survive, but it also can deprive families of the presence of a member, perhaps a parent."
On March 12 the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) announced a plan to close some money-losing casinos and replace them with privately funded casinos in large cities, including Toronto, as well as expand the province's slot machine and lottery businesses.
The intent is to increase government revenue from gambling to $1.3 billion within five years to help reduce a provincial deficit of $16 billion.
While acknowledging that some small-scale gambling can be an acceptable form of entertainment, Collins is opposed to the OLG plan.
"I have real concerns about opening more casinos, or expanding other forms of gambling, especially if that is seen as having some kind of social benefit," said Collins, who voiced similar concerns as archbishop of Edmonton.
"We all have to look honestly at where our revenue is coming from. If there is danger that we are contributing to the harm of individuals or families, we must not engage in such activities, even in the name of charity."
Collins said large-scale gambling is not social entertainment and that "it can very easily absorb individuals in a world of illusion. That is not healthy."
"Gambling can be very addictive for some individuals, with grave personal and family consequences," he said. "Governments can also become addicted to gambling revenue - that is no solid foundation for government policy."
In Canada gambling generates $13 billion annually which averages out to $534 per adult citizen.
The bulk of this money comes from a small percentage of the population, with six per cent of gamblers contributing 75 per cent of the provinces' total gaming revenues, according to a study from the University of Calgary.
"Casinos and lotteries and other forms of gambling can become destructive in the lives of some people desperate to solve their financial problems in the vain hope that just one more bit of gambling will bring the jackpot," said the cardinal.
"This is just not healthy. Winners are always trumpeted, but of course the hard reality upon which gambling profits are made is that most people lose."
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) released a study March 15 that said governments are relying on gambling revenue because they are "mired in debt."
"Provincial governments in Canada are addicted to gambling revenue in the same way that they are addicted to tax revenue," says the study. "When governments cannot get their spending under control, they look for new ways in which to increase their revenue."
Although a proportion of gambling revenue is supposed to go towards charities, the IMFC reveals the proportion ranges from a low of 2.6 per cent in Quebec, to 6.6 per cent in Ontario, and a high of 12 per cent in British Columbia. The IMFC calls this a "drop in the bucket" compared to the cost of servicing debt "to prop up unsustainable spending."
Meanwhile the cost of problem gambling to families and communities grows, the study says.
"Like any gambling addict, governments do their best to minimize the visibility of the damage their habit is causing," the study says.
Problem gambling causes damage to gamblers' families, jobs and finances, the IMFC says. Those who can no longer control their gambling "rush further and further into debt."