Canadian governments are getting the biggest portion of their gambling profit on the backs of addicts. The province of Alberta found that, where the average population has a rate of gambling addiction around two to three per cent, the top six per cent of highest gambling spenders in that province had an addiction rate of 40 per cent. If Alberta lost those big spenders, government profits would plummet. One has to wonder, in light of the above, if they are really serious about curbing gambling addiction.
Still, governments will often trumpet that the money they take from gamblers goes to fund gambling addiction research and treatment, charities and non-profit organizations.
In our review of four Canadian provinces, we found that the money given to charities, non-profits and gambling addiction research and treatment is a pittance in light of gambling profits, ranging between 2.9 per cent and 12 per cent of profits. Gambling addiction research and treatment ranged from 0.5 pr cent to 4.7 per cent by the same measure. Canadian provincial governments are not putting their money where their mouths are.
Originally, the province of Ontario established casinos near the border with America to draw gambling money from our neighbours to the south. Now, pressed for cash, the government plans to plant casinos in localities where too many people are spending their gambling money in a nearby province. They’ll take more money from a local economy to prop up spending habits that have racked up massive debts.
Local businesses that compete with a casino for entertainment dollars will likely lose some portion of their revenue to the gambling hall. Restaurants close by will likely feel the pinch as gamblers stay close to the action where good food is provided more cheaply than business competitors can afford. In other words, if you love the local mom and pop restaurant, you might not want a casino next door.
So what can we do about this? When a family member has a gambling addiction and is spending the family into bankruptcy, they will likely be cut off from every bank account, credit card, line of credit or any source of cash.
Unfortunately, we can’t turn off the tap of money to our governments. What we recommend is therefore another option: take all the gambling profits received by government and use them to pay down the deficit and debt. In the four Canadian provinces we studied, gambling profits made up around two per cent of total government revenue in a given year. If governments everywhere did this, gambling would not stop, but deficits and debts would be paid down faster, freeing up money that would have been paid to cover debt interest to sustain social services.
What would happen to all the services that are now funded from gambling profits? Governments would need to cut overall spending by the amount of gambling revenue in order to maintain essential services. This would provide another level of fiscal austerity to governments all too used to profligate spending.