There's no "integrity" in state-owned gambling monopolies.
I see Paul Godfrey is patting himself on the back for helping clean up the cesspool that has been the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG), which just reported a staggering $2.1 billion profit to be turned over to the provincial treasury.
"We've tried to prove to the public in many ways that the integrity of OLG is solid as a rock."
First, as a controlling shareholder in the Postmedia newspaper group, OLC chair Godfrey has to choose between cleaning the stables at OLC in a non-executive role at the province's request, or attending to Postmedia, a remnant of the bankrupt CanWest empire whose business - big-city newspaper publishing - is in "secular decline," the Wall Street euphemism for parrots that would fall to the ground if not nailed to the perch. I would guess, since Godfrey has skin in the game at at highly leveraged Postmedia while OLG is 100% owned by me and my fellow Ontarians, that Godfrey doesn't spend enough time at OLG to be a credible source on the OLG monopoly's integrity or anything else about its operations. About the only topic on which I'd trust in Godfrey's assessment are the operating results of Postmedia's National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald. And even that trust has its limits, but that's another Godfrey story.
Second, the integrity to which Godfrey refers is a series of OLG scandals in recent years that the eminent one, Godfrey, was brought in to apply lipstick to. That would include close to $200 million in "winnings" skimmed off by unscrupulous ticket vendors and OLG employees and their families between 1996 and 2009 - chronic venality that Queen's Park somehow overlooked for 14 years.
Godfrey is most certainly not referring to integrity in state-owned lottery and casino operations, since that is an oxymoron.
Mass-market gambling is a tax on the poor. This is not The Cincinnati Kid. Overwhelmingly those who gamble on lottery tickets and in OLG's casinos are of the lower-income, lower-education demographic. Which figures, since I don't know anyone, or know anyone who knows anyone, and so on, who has won more than fifty bucks on an OLG lottery ticket.
Habitual lottery ticket buyers and state-casino patrons - the mainstay of OLG's $6.7-billion business(total revenues) and of OLG's state-monopoly counterparts across N.A. - are gulled by the carefully market-tested bright colours and images of instant riches used in ticket design and casino ads.
Integrity doesn't enter the picture in government-owned gambling monopolies. It's an immoral business in which, as an Ontarian, I find myself involuntarily complicit. It preys on the least advantaged in our society. Players with household incomes under $10,000 bet nearly three times as much on lotteries as those with incomes over $50,000.
The social problems associated with gambling are well documented. They include addiction, a problem so severe in B.C. that health officials are objecting to planned casino expansions and much higher than average divorce and suicide rates. If you were offered $500,000 a year to work at an enterprise whose products led to even one needless suicide or foreclosure on the home of a couple with children, would you take the job anyway? I have a couple of friends who long ago confessed to having worked in tobacco plants in their misspent late adolescence - something they said they regretted even then. What makes OLG any different?
I seem over the winter to have lost the friendship of devoutly religious friend and colleague of some 20 years the moment I said no to his offer to help him fulfill a recently won contract with OLG. I said simply that for me, state-owned and encouraged gambling aimed at the least advantaged among us I find profoundly immoral. I've also had to bail out a retiree friend who more than once has not been able to make the rent, having drained his monthly fixed income from his $10-a-day scratch ticket habit.
I wish that that my incommunicative former friend and Godfrey would commit this data to memory:
* If you spend $2 every week on the lottery, you can expect to wait about 270,000 years before you win a share of the Lotto 6/49 jackpot.
* Your chance of being struck by lightning next year is 1 in 10 million.
* Your chance of winning a share of the Lotto 6/49 jackpot is 1 in 14 million.
* Most forms of gambling involve some kind of house advantage, meaning that over time it will cost you to play.
* Most forms of gambling are random, making it impossible to accurately predict results.
* Skill plays little or no role in most forms of gambling.
No, my source for the above isn't Gamblers Anonymous. It's the BC Lottery Corp., which is mandated to post this CYA data on its website and include it in other materials. It's as hollow a gesture as the "Know Your Limit, Play Within It" slogan that makes a discreet appearance at lottery-ticket-vending locations. OLG is a business. It wants to expand its customer base and get its existing customers to spend more. No less than McDonald's trying to "upsell" you with its counter personnel's trademark salutation, "Fries with that?"
We smother whatever reservations we have over this mass hoodwinking of the least advantaged among us by taking seriously the government gambling monopolies' assertion that the state's winnings are being reinvested in the community - in hospitals, recreation centres and the like.
First, that's not true. Only a sliver of OLG's latest-year $2.1 billion in winnings turned over to the province will find its way into "good works." As Dr. Gregory Jantz, author of Turning the Tables on Gambling (Shaw/Waterbook) puts it, "The revenue that is generated through the sale of lottery tickets does not add funds to the education budgets of most states. Instead, states simply divert funds to other parts of their budget."
Meanwhile, "We now live in a culture encouraging an activity that destroys a percentage of the lives it touches." says Jantz.
Second, if the hospitals, rec centers and so on are truly needed, we should be funding them as we do all essential social services, from our tax dollars - not from the proceeds of an ethically dubious activity. I could say "monopoly," and right there people would say "But isn't that illegal?" The answer's yes, of course, but not when it's a government monopoly. The ethical problems start right there. How can I seek redress against a Microsoft monopoly when the court system is run by the same government that owns monopolies in gambling and liquor and operates them with the same marketing vigor as Apple and Amazon?
There's no integrity in what you're doing, Mr. Godfrey. Resign your commission and stick with better informing your newspaper audiences. There's integrity to that. And eventually respectable profits, once my hidebound industry devises a business model that finally takes the Internet seriously.