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Not all addictions are created equal

by Archives March 1, 2006

At least not according to government-run Loto Quebec. “Responsible Gaming Week” apparently happened just last week and as a pre-emptive strike against future compulsive gamblers, we Quebecers have been bombarded by the Loto Quebec-funded anti-gambling TV ads.

Not that anti-gambling ads are a problem – it’s just the timing that’s a bit suspect. Loto Quebec has been courting the municipal and provincial governments while anxiously awaiting their decision on the proposed $1-billion casino/hotel/entertainment complex for Montreal’s Peel Basin. They’re pulling out all the stops to convince critics that they’ll take care of all the negative social, economic and health-related setbacks. Hence the ads – if we take care of all the problem gamblers now, it’ll be less to worry about when more Montrealers flock to the new gambling playground and discover their own betting obsessions.

Montreal’s current casino has been around since 1993. It was the second government-run casino in Canada, after the first opened in 1990 in Winnipeg. At that time there were only about 14 casinos in Quebec, Ontario and the Northeastern U.S. Today there are over 70, increasing the competition and lowering the Montreal casino’s profit margins.

Gambling problems in Canada have been around a lot longer then our government-run casinos, however. Some argue that gambling is not really an addiction, but others would beg to differ. The first Canadian Gamblers Anonymous 12-step program was started back in 1964, in Toronto. Then, in 1983, the Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling was started in Ontario to increase public awareness. In 1985, however, the real trouble started. That’s the year the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to give the provinces exclusive control over gambling, and also legalized computer, video and slot devices. Now, after a surge in the ’90s, increasing revenues have slowed, but provincial governments still make huge profits from their lotteries, casinos, slot machines and video lottery terminals.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the overall annual revenue for gambling in 2003-2004 was $6.3 billion, compared to $1.7 billion in 1992-1993. And in 2002, according to Statistics Canada, about 76 per cent of all Canadians gambled in one form or another. That’s a lot of money to be made.

What kind of solution is needed? It’s hard to say. We’ve probably all tried gambling in one form or another. As much as these types of gambling have made their way into the mainstream and become socially acceptable ways to spend a couple of bucks, it’s difficult to ignore gambling’s hazardous addictive nature. And it seems a gambling addiction can be a difficult thing to acknowledge.

Back in the ’50s, smoking was considered “fun” and “cool” before people figured out the consequences. For many others, drinking and recreational drug-use are still a good way to spend a Saturday night. Compared to alcoholism or drug addiction, gambling seems to be a bit of an underground addiction, and it will probably remain under the radar unless more people are affected by it. But those who are hit, are hit hard.

The news coverage of the proposed new casino all tell you about the possible risks to the nearby low-income neighborhoods. Certain social groups will be hit harder than others if the new complex is built. Even if it won’t effect us directly as individuals it will probably have an affect on many present and future Montrealers. That should be taken into account in addition to all the studies, Loto Quebec-funded or not, that will be popping up until the government decides.

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