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The Cardus Daily

Government Addictions

Brian Dijkema  |  March 15, 2012  |  Economy, Games, Justice, Politics

“What expertise does a Crown corporation have in running a hot dog stand in a casino?”

It’s a good question, but it’s the wrong one. Ontario’s finance minister, Dwight Duncan, should have asked, “What is a Crown corporation doing taking revenues from a casino at all?”

OLG, the government corporation which oversees gambling in the province of Ontario, recently rolled out a new business plan which clears a whole new path and purpose for gambling in Ontario.

As Adam Radwanski notes in the Globe, “The new vision for OLG adds up to something radically different—a tough-minded (some would say cold-blooded) business plan without any of the usual moral squeamishness.”

The moral squeamishness which Radwanski describes is the government’s former propensity to see its involvement in the lottery and gaming industry as a barrier to the licentiousness, vice, and social ills that might come as a result of less-regulated gambling activity in the province. The OLG’s predecessor, the Ontario Lottery Corporation, was founded to provide Ontarians with the fun of a little bet here and there while taking the money spent on these harmless vices and returning it back to communities as an unexpected windfall. The deal was clear: the government allows its citizens a little fun and returns the vice money back into culture and recreation. Here’s what the Ontario government said when it spent the first pennies of revenue from gaming—a $3.5 million dollar investment in TVO:

As honourable members know, the Ontario Lottery Corporation Act dedicates Lottario proceeds to cultural and recreational activities and facilities. This is the very first Lottario allocation that has been made. Frankly, I cannot think of a more useful way to spend the money. I would emphasize that only the one-time capital investment in this extension is coming from lottery proceeds. We will not be depending on lottery proceeds for the continuing operation of the new facilities. (emphasis mine)

Vicious games fund virtuous games, and the government watches over everything to make sure no one gets hurt.

Well, that was then. This is 2012. As Radwanski says, “Now, for the first time, it will be purely about profit. With what is somewhat euphemistically described as a ‘more market-driven and consumer-responsive’ strategy, Ontario will try to milk every single dollar there is to be spent.”

The OLG proudly notes that it generated 3.2 billion dollars of economic activity in 2010, with almost 2 billion dollars of gambling revenue. And it expects to generate an additional 1.3 billion with its new plan. A tidy profit no doubt, but if the government’s only in it for the profit, one has to ask: on what grounds is the government in it at all?

The same question should be asked of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). If profit is the only motive for a government monopoly over a given good or service (e.g. alcohol or gaming), on what grounds do we oppose government exerting greater control over other industries, especially as the financial pinch really begins to hurt?

Perhaps there remains some altruism in the government’s motives. But I think it’s more likely the government is doing what any other addict does: lying to itself while self-destructing.

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