By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
As Ontario explores setting up casinos in Ottawa and the Greater Toronto Area, an Ottawa-based think tank has decried the addiction to gambling revenues of provincial governments.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) study released Mar. 15 said provincial governments are “mired in debt” and looking for ways to increase the $13 billion a year that gambling already rakes in.
“Provincial governments in Canada are addicted to gambling revenue in the same way that they are addicted to tax revenue,” says the study. In tough economic times, the federal government is paying 13 per cent of its revenues to service its debt and provinces are also “mired in debt.”
“When governments cannot get their spending under control, they look for new ways in which to increase their revenue,” the IMFC said. “Not surprisingly, they look to the taxpayer.”
Gambling takes an average of $534 from every Canadian adult, the IMFC said. Though not every Canadian gambles, the figure highlights “how much additional money the government takes” from citizens through gambling.
The though the average family “pays more in taxes than they do for food, clothing and shelter combined,” mismanagement of high tax levels “levels means Canadian provincial governments have become bookies to keep the money flowing in,” the study says.
Though a proportion of gambling revenues are supposed to go towards charities, the IMFC reveals the proportion ranges from a low 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 base 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.”
People have been reported sitting at slot machines for up to eight hours straight, not even leaving to go to the bathroom, it says. Some go through their retirement savings, remortgage their homes or use up money saved for their children’s education.
“These are people who are addicted to gambling and cannot by their own power stop,” the IMFC said, noting a 2010 paper it published entitled Government gambling and broken families revealed the effects of problem gambling on addicts and their families. The IMFC estimated gambling addiction’s effects touch between 4.1 and 8.28 million Canadians.
Governments are using gambling revenue to mask its out-of-control spending. “Certainly, governments see their recovery from this addiction as impossible,” the study said. The IMFC urged a cost/benefit analysis that would compare the costs of gambling addiction such as family services to address family-breakdown, suicide and bankruptcy to the revenues.
The IMFC noted that governments are moving “deeper and deeper into gambling activity,” including casino expansion and online gambling.
The IMFC recommends that any gambling revenue be put towards paying down government debt. “When gambling profits go into general coffers, it gives government the false impression that they can continue to overspend.”
“Using gambling profits exclusively for debt reduction would deter governments from profligate spending.”
In Ontario, using gambling revenues for debt reduction would eliminate the deficit in eight years, lower interest costs and speed up opportunity for debt repayment, the IMFC argues.