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A Casino Will Gamble With Toronto's Most Vulnerable Citizens

Posted: 04/09/2013 5:08 pm

"Pennies don't fall from heaven -- they have to be earned here on earth."

- The Late Margaret Thatcher, former UK Prime Minister

"Every regulation represents a restriction of liberty, every regulation has a cost," said the late U.K. Prime Minister, Lady Margaret Thatcher. May she rest in peace. 'Wicked' policy problems in urban policy, Mrs. Thatcher might say, need to be solved with facts. But gambling is not what the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a U.S. Democrat and sociologist whose courage warmed him to conservatives, would have defined as a wicked problem. That's because "everyone," he said, "is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

This is at the heart of conservatism, something I learned about in my early journalistic career prior to business and academe, having been on the editorial board of the National Review, dining and conversing on such matters with the late William F. Buckley at his stately Manhattan apartment; serving as a founding member of the National Post; serving our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as in-house counsel to the National Citizens' Coalition; and, finally, in homage to Friedrich Hayek and the late Mrs. Thatcher, spending time as a Fellow of the free-market Fraser Institute.

My politics have changed; I am post-partisan now. But I still recall a bit about elemental conservatism. Have no doubt: state-enabled gambling of a casino in the city of Toronto is antithetical to conservatism.

A landmark 1973 article in Policy Sciences, "Dilemmas in a Theory of Planning," by the urban planners Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber drew a distinction between 'tame' and 'wicked' social problems. 'Tame' problems can be redressed by evidence-driven analysis: examples are sanitation, higher agricultural productivity, electrification -- and gambling.

Such issues can be clearly circumscribed, data can be gathered, and the efficacy of policy solutions can be tested. Gambling is a problem of this variety. The essence of conservatism -- of the sort Mr. Ford supposedly espouses -- shows that gambling is a tame problem. The policy solution is to ensure that the state brooks no such policy nonsense.

Exploiting society's most vulnerable citizens, the modus operandi of revenue-generating gambling, is regressive taxation. Imposing it as policy denies evidence of its deleterious effects on families, depression, and on the incidence of what the conservative sociologist, James Q. Wilson, called 'broken windows' crimes, such as vandalism and urban disorder.

Mr. Ford's crusade in support of gambling makes comedic allusion to "10,000 good-paying jobs" and a moral defence suggesting -- without evidence -- that a majority of the people he talks to favour a casino. An appeal to majority -- even if such a fictitious majority existed -- runs counter to conservatism, which requires robust data to support policy action. Further, if Mr. Ford is to rely on 'multiplier-effect economics' -- or government "creating jobs" -- then he knows little about Economics 101, much less conservatism.

In a recent edition of Healthcare Quarterly, a leading health policy journal, Robert I. Simpson, the CEO of the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre from its inception in 2000 until 2010, notes that "the singular driving force for expansion [of gambling] is government's quest for non-tax revenue, largely in response to an ideologically based disaffection for tax increases. The trade-off is that, without precedent, government becomes directly involved in providing an activity that knowingly harms the population it is elected to serve." A true conservative, unlike Mr. Ford, will assess the facts soberly.

First, let us review the revenue argument. In a commentary concerning his paper, Mr. Simpson noted that he had calculated the revenues that the proposed mega-casino would extract from the local Toronto economy at $1 billion annually. Applying the 'turn-over rate' currently realized in Ontario, only 35 per cent, he analyzed, will go to government and the remainder, siphoned to operations. That $1 billion will drain away other consumer expenditures, notably spending on entertainment and leisure activities. "An extraction of this magnitude," he writes, "will certainly create substantial job loss and business failure." In other words, gambling is a net-negative revenue generator, creates negative incentives to sustain thriving business, and thereby robs Peter to pay Paul much less.

Second, gambling is highly addictive. According to a 2006 article by Wiebe and colleagues called "Gambling and Problem Gambling in Ontario 2005," there were roughly 330,000 problem gamblers of moderate to high severity. And that was seven years ago.

Hence a large portion of the city Mr. Ford governs already suffers from problem gambling. His jejune pro-gambling agenda will abet their addiction and encourage more addicts and destroy their families. Addictions are twinned with mental health challenges, which, in turn, produce severe negative knock-on effects that deplete scarce health resources and produce harm. Any true conservative, awake to the abundance of data, should admit this.

Third, I do not believe in 'recreational gambling.' Toronto is a great city, and has earned the enduring title, "Toronto the Good," not because it once had as its roots puritan values, but rather because it is still peaceful and devoid of the 'broken windows' problems Professor James Q. Wilson rightly vilified. Gambling is a gateway drug; a city that enables and promotes it violates basic principles of conservatism -- notably, to draw on evidence from other jurisdictions, and to put social problems to heel before they reach metastasis.

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  • In this Aug. 10, 2012 photo, electronic slots machines line a room behind a bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Growing numbers of people appear to prefer their odds in gambling parlors set up everywhere from bars to bakeries on this U.S. territory and that's become not only a problem for the hotels running the bulk of legal casinos but for the government, which is already struggling with gaping budget shortfalls. As is, Puerto Rico will see two casinos close by the end of the year, with five other smaller casinos on the verge. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2003 file photo, Terry Skierczynski drops a quarter into a slot machine at the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The Seneca and Mohawk tribes have for years withheld casino payments to the state because they say New York violated contracts with them by allowing gambling in exclusive Indian territories. Consequently, the state stopped sending money _ more than $100 million so far _ to municipalities where Indian casinos operate. Without their share of casino money, these communities are straining to provide services. (AP Photo/David Duprey, File)

  • Slot machines are seen in the casino aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 as Istithmar World, the Dubai state investment company that owns the ship, outlined plans Monday to turn the retired cruise liner into a 300-room hotel, ending years of speculation about its fate, in Port Rashid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, July 2, 2012. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II launched the QE2 in 1967. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

  • An attendant in Chinese god of Fortune costume plays a slot machine during Gaming Expo Asia in Macau Tuesday, May 22, 2012. The event features trade show and conference for Asian gaming market, starting May 22 through May 24. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

  • Brunilda Garcia

    FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2011 file photo, Brunilda Garcia of the Bronx, N.Y. plays the slot machines at the Resorts World Casino on its first day of operation at Aqueduct Racetrack in the Queens Borough of New York,, N.Y. Seeking to increase state revenue an bolster sagging budgets and at the same time create jobs, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes to swap land for a global casino developer to build the nationĀ's largest convention center in the New York City borough of Queens, while pushing for an amendment to the constitution to allow private sector casinos beyond Indian land, which is allowed and limited by federal law. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek, File)

  • Lorraine Capers, of Brooklyn, N.Y., claps after winning seven free spins on a slot machine at the new $2.4 billion Revel casino resort moments after it opened in Atlantic City, N.J., on Monday, April 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

  • Gamblers play the slot machine machines at the Resorts World Casino, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York city. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to build the world's largest convention center hotel at a New York City racetrack as part of his push to expand gambling in a bid for more state tax revenue and jobs. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • In this Nov. 9, 2011 photo, a patron plays a slot machine at the Magic City Casino in Miami. Miami has been hit hard by the recession and the collapse of Florida's real estate market. There are nearly 300,000 people out of work in the area. That's led many to envision a plan for boosting jobs: Casinos. Big Ones. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

 

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