Inner City Diary
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Government Can't Shift Shame of Gambling
February 15, 2004
"Relax, Harry. It's only business. I've got no other way to make this kind of money."

In almost every conversation I've had with local crack dealers, they've had a ready rationalization for their behavior. They hide behind their educational and economic deficits, their race, and even the corruption they see elsewhere.

But my all time favorite is what I call the rationalization of the "benevolent dealer."
One dealer did his best to set me straight. "Hey, I'm not like the other guys! I cut my stuff clean, not with poison like the idiot down the street."

“Plus,” he added, “I'm a nice guy. My place is always open. When the girls run out of diapers for their kids they come here. When buddy needs food, I'll share some of mine…”

I'm not sure if these guys are fooled by their own rationalizations, or if they really think I'll be mislead by their tales of benevolence. I think this process of rationalization is just something they do to salve what's left of their conscience.

But they're not the only ones hiding behind their rationalizations.

Even government does it!

While in opposition, the NDP rightly opposed Conservative schemes for VLT's and new casinos.

"It's a tax on the poor and oppressed," they raged. Bolstered by a supporting chant of "Shame, shame," their leader shouted, "You know exactly who's going to play those machines!”

And they were right. They stated what studies have proven. Gambling, especially electronic gambling, is highly addictive. It becomes a form of escapism with a special allure to vulnerable people unhappy with their lives. Recent stats suggest one in four VLT players are considered ‘problem gamblers.’ Statistics Canada notes that problem gamblers tend to be poorer and less educated than the rest of the population.

So why has the NDP position changed so drastically simply because they walked to the other side of the legislature?

What they used to condemn as another attempt to expand the “tax on the poor,” they now pitch as community economic development. “Jobs, jobs and more jobs,” they chant. Great! Employ more “alternative tax” collectors. Hire people to exacerbate a social problem and then you can hire even more people to “address” the social problem you’ve just multiplied. That’s a pretty twisted employment strategy.

They’ll invest millions in new VLT’s that accept bills as well as coins, making it easier for people to keep gambling without leaving their seats. But they’ll rationalize it away because the machines will display the occasional offer of help for problem gamblers.

They know Aboriginals are about five times as likely as others to have full-blown gambling problems. But they pitch Aboriginal casinos in isolated communities as an issue of equity and job creation. That’s more racism than equity!

They acknowledge that increased access and availability of VLT’s – the crack cocaine of gambling – raises the odds of gambling addiction. So what do they do? Add Sunday to the list of days you can lose your shirt at the neighbourhood VLT. They even floated an unholy union of VLT’s and ATM’s inside the casino.

Most recently, they started installing keno machines in laundromats and convenience stores. More electronic gambling. A new game every five minutes. Less and less places for the addict to avoid the addiction.

By the way, do you know any rich people that go to laundromats? This truly is just another tax on the poor.

What next? Maybe they can work with the WRHA to install machines in hospital emergency waiting rooms. That way the wait will be easier and there’ll be plenty of help nearby.

Manitoba leads the country in this taxation of the poor, this exploitation of the desperate.

The same government that urges people to stay in school, seek job training and work hard, also actively promotes the destructive notion that you should spend what you’ve earned to make what you haven’t earned. In the process, you lose what you can’t recover. Isn’t it hypocritical to peddle both messages?

"Hold on!" you say. "Is this just a partisan rant?"


There’s no party with a clear conscience on this matter. It seems it’s even easier for government to get addicted to VLT revenues than it is for gamblers to get hooked by their VLT losses.

This is not political. This is personal!

A few months ago, government lost a live one – a problem gambler overwhelmed by his losses. I know because I did the funeral.

But with the introduction of keno machines, they’ll have no problem recouping their loss.

Like the corner crack dealer, politicians and bureaucrats have covered their butts with rationalizations. My message is the same to both. You can try to shift the blame, but you can’t shift the shame. Smarten up!
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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