A prominent sign of the times is the Ontario government’s contemplation of opening a string of gambling casinos to bolster its sagging revenues. That this move is considered by a party that likes to boast of its moral purity betrays a kind of desperation in the house of democratic socialism.
Robert Fulford, in a recent Financial Times of Canada article (May 11, 1992, p. 26), reminded the Ontario New Democratic Party that giving in to its thirst for revenue regardless of its source would be a betrayal of its founders, especially the late J. S. Woodsworth, who certainly would not approve. Besides, wrote Fulford, if the NDP listened to those who studied the effects of gambling, such as the Addiction Research Foundation, it would know that gambling is a very destructive addiction. In fact, the U.S. National Center For Pathological Gambling has warned that “compulsive gambling will be the mental-health crisis of the 1990s. “Other studies in the U.S. have shown that the age of pathological gamblers has dropped considerably, and more women have become addicted gamblers. Fulford writes that the NDP, which prides itself on its promotion of women’s rights, “will soon be able to claim that it provides equal-opportunity pathology.”
But isn’t it true that there always have been gamblers and there always will be, so why should the government not take a percentage? Fulford reminds us that such reasoning only works if we ignore the issue of ethics. If we do, we may just as well argue that the government should also license drug dealers and prostitutes so as to receive a cut from those activities. He concludes:
The uncomfortable truth is that lottery gambling long ago compromised most governments in North America, including all the Canadian provinces.
As William Safire phrased it in The New York Times last year, lotteries put the full force of government behind the promotion of moral corruption. Lotteries play, economically, the same role as illegal gambling: they give clever people a way to take money from not-so-clever people. In this case the clever people aren’t hoods in black shirts and white ties but civil servants, employees of ad agencies, and media corporations that run advertising for lotteries—and, of course, politicians who have more money to give away. With casinos, you can add the people who run hotels and work the tables. In any case, the historic principle (smart people cheat dumb people) applies. Is this now part of NDP philosophy?