Cutting research into problem gambling is not an adult move
As the Ford government expands gambling opportunities across Ontario, you’d think it might also be interested in research about how to help those who can’t handle it. The government might even want to invest in such research.
As it turns out, you’d be wrong.
Instead, it’s shutting down Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, a small agency that helps big outfits like the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. and Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission fight problem gambling.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott says the government is doing it to “redirect all available resources to the front lines.”
That makes no sense because the role of the research exchange has been precisely to supply OLG and the gaming commission with current evidence on how to deal with the negative effects of gambling.
What are they supposed to do without that kind of research? Make it up as they go along?
While the exchange isn’t the only agency that helps to fight problem gambling, it’s an important one. And as such its budget is a worthwhile and justifiable expense.
Consider: Ontario Lottery and Gaming made a net profit in 2017-18 of $2.49 on revenues of $7.58 billion, money that goes straight into provincial coffers. About 30 per cent of that revenue comes from problem gamblers.
Beside that, the research exchange’s annual budget of just $2.5 million is an afterthought — a mere one-thousandth of OLG’s net profits.
Indeed, cutting back on program directed at problem gambling is a foolish idea considering that the government’s April budget called for ramping up plans for new casinos and new online gambling opportunities — and even included a request to the federal government to allow betting on single-game sporting events. (That’s currently prohibited in the Criminal Code of Canada.)
At the time the government said it’s expanding gambling opportunities because it’s time to “treat adults like adults.”
So shouldn’t the Ford government itself be the responsible adult in the room and make sure its actions don’t harm its citizens?
The hard reality is that problem gamblers can face financial ruin, family breakups and even homelessness.
In fact, a 2018 study found that 35 per cent of people at the Good Shepherd homeless shelter in Toronto had a problem with gambling, compared to just 0.6 to 4 per cent of the general population.
And more than 17,000 Ontarians have found their gambling addiction so hard to beat that they have signed onto the OLG’s “self-exclusion” program, which literally stops them from entering casinos.
As Toronto’s former medical officer of health, David McKeown, said, “the best approach to preventing problem gambling in Toronto is to prevent expansion of gambling access.”
But since the Ford government is bent on expanding gambling opportunities across the province it should at least strengthen organizations whose work helps problem gamblers kick the habit. Certainly it should not shut them down.
At least, that’s what a responsible adult would do.