Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ontario Government 'Addicted' to Gambling Revenues

Nov. 3, 2004. 05:37 AM
Addicted to gambling revenues
McGuinty admits Ontario relies on gaming profits
Problem gamblers chip in 35 per cent of revenues: Study

The Ontario government is hooked on gambling, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday.

"There is no doubt about it, we have come to rely on gambling revenues," he said. "Perhaps in a better world we wouldn't, but the fact of the matter it's here, it's here to stay."

McGuinty was reacting to a new study that shows problem gamblers — 4.8 per cent of all gamblers — account for 35 per cent of the more than $4 billion that Ontario reaps each year from all forms of gaming.

The study comes at a time when Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is reviewing whether gaming should be expanded, which critics say is not warranted.

"I have asked the OLGC to review what potential there is and what the market will bear ... and they will come back with a full report sometime this fall," said Economic and Trade Minister Joe Cordiano, who had not yet seen the study.

According to Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, the province's many lotteries, casinos, racetracks racked up a profit of $2.1 billion for the Ontario treasury.

The study, which surveyed 6,500 Ontarians over a 10-month period, was commissioned by the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre and conducted by two University of Lethbridge professors. The centre is an arm's-length provincial funding agency.

"It leads to a fairly to incontrovertible conclusion that a significant portion of gaming revenue comes from problem gamblers," said Rob Williams, a member of the university's school of health sciences and a co-ordinator for the Alberta Gaming Research Institute.

"We have known a significant portion of gaming revenue comes from problem gamblers and the purpose of this research was really to pin that number down," he said in a telephone interview.

The former New Democratic Party government introduced casino gambling to Ontario in 1993 when a temporary facility was opened in Windsor.

Now there are permanent casinos in Windsor, Niagara Falls and Orillia. The OLGC also operates hundreds of slot machines at racetracks, as well as four charity casinos.

In 2003-2004, the Ontario government spent $36 million on problem-gambling research, or 2.6 per cent of the $1.4 billion that problem gamblers spend here, the study says.

Cordiano dismissed suggestions the province isn't doing enough to help problem gamblers. "We have one of the most progressive problem gaming policies in North America," he said.

The minister played down problem gambling, saying, "Most people go and have a good experience ... they may spend a couple of hundred dollars, win a couple of hundred dollars, but it's entertainment."

And anyway, Cordiano said, it's too late for the province to turn its back on gambling. "Gaming is here ... it is a significant contributor to the province's revenue base," he said. "We are going to do what we can to be as responsible as we can to make sure ... that people aren't going to be hurt by this."

Asked if the province's casinos are enabling problem gamblers, Health Minister George Smitherman said: "I don't think anyone would characterize us as that.

"What we need to do is make sure is that we've got good, strong programs designed to assist people affected by any range of addictions," said Smitherman, who hadn't seen the study.

NDP MPP Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre) said the study shows Ontario has become dependent on revenues from problem gamblers.

"That's a serious problem ... and it shows the modest amount of money being invested in dealing with problem gambling hasn't worked at all," he said.

Kormos said the information in the report also opens the province to legal liability.

"The government armed with this type of knowledge ... has increased it exposure, its liability, vis-à-vis continuing to service gamblers with gambling addictions and then being liable for the damage that they cause," said Kormos.


Nov. 2, 2004. 06:45 PM
'Problem' gambling here to stay, premier says
McGuinty acknowledges study: Ontario has come to depend on gambling

Ontario will keep its slot machines, racetracks, casinos and lotteries despite a report showing problem gamblers contribute more than one-third of the province's gambling revenues, Premier Dalton McGuinty said today.
"There's no doubt about it, we have come to rely on gambling revenue," McGuinty said before a caucus meeting.

"Perhaps in a better world we wouldn't, but the fact of the matter is it's here, it's here to stay."

Ontario pulls in about $5.7 billion a year in overall gambling revenues, with about $2 billion going directly to government coffers.

The report, released today, says the province gets 35 per cent of its gaming revenues from problem gamblers, which make up just five per cent of the gaming population.

But the study points out that Ontario spent only $36 million last year trying to prevent and treat gambling addictions.

McGuinty said that's a "significant" amount of money - although it's less than three per cent of the $1.4 billion the study estimates was made from problem gamblers.

"I think that creates some ethical quandaries for governments if the purpose of the government is to serve the interests of the people," said Rob Williams, co-author of the study and a University of Lethbridge health sciences professor.

The study shows that most problem gamblers played the slots, bet at the racetrack or played casino table games.

Economic Development Minister Joseph Cordiano said Ontario has ``one of the most progressive problem gaming policies in North America," and said he would review the report.

For most people, gambling provides a few hours of fun, he added.

"It's entertainment, then they go home and they don't have a problem."

Cordiano said he's asked his department to review the government's gaming policies, including improving help for addicts.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is also looking at whether there should be more casinos built in the province, a report which is expected later this fall, he said.

New Democrat house leader Peter Kormos said the government must take action on the study's findings.

"I think there should be a moratorium on new casinos and a thorough assessment of the effectiveness of their gambling addiction treatment programs," he said.

Williams acknowledged that gambling is entrenched in the province.

"We've created a culture of gambling so you can't suddenly take it away," he said.

However, the province can do better at preventing people from becoming addicted and having more effective programs aiding those with problems, Williams said.

The province could more effectively enforce self-exclusion programs, where gambling addicts ask to be refused entrance to a casino or other betting facility, he said.

The province could also offer a debit-type card with a limit for slots, take cash machines out of gambling locations, and spend more on prevention programs, Williams said.

Jim Cronin, a spokesman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., said the organization will take a close look at the report, but defended the province's problem gambling program.

"We have a program that includes treatment and counselling, public awareness and education, the research centre and a 24-hour help line," he said.

"No question we understand that a percentage of our customers are going to be problem gamblers, and that's why there is this provincewide program to point them in the right direction to give them the help they need."