Sunday, December 11, 2005

Go Down Gamblin'

You're nobody in the casino business if you can't bring in the high rollers. Free gourmet meals, hotel suites, first-class flights, liquor, even drugs and prostitutes--you gotta comp 'em if you want them to drop a few million on you.

So it should be no surprise that our government-run casinos in Ontario are doing the same:

There is such a thing as a free lunch at Ontario's government-owned casinos — as well as hotel rooms, NFL tickets, Rolex watches and tropical vacations. The casinos spent more than $300 million on perks like these last year to lure gamblers to the card tables and slot machines.

But a Star investigation of the widespread and growing use of "comps" found that the provincial government has no control over what they are, how many are given out or who gets them at its four Las Vegas-style commercial casinos in Rama, Windsor and Niagara Falls, raising questions over its level of oversight of the private operators.

Complimentary gifts are part of an even larger pool of $700 million the provincial gaming corporation spent last year to market and promote gambling — a number that keeps growing despite plummeting commercial casino profits. By contrast, the province spends $36 million on problem gambling prevention, treatment and research. About 450,000 people are classed as moderate to severe problem gamblers in Ontario.

And it's costing the taxpayers nearly $300 million a year to keep these guys hooked:

The OLGC instead released a general financial breakdown of comps at all gaming venues for the year ended March 31, 2004.

According to that record, the cashback program — where holders of players' points cards get money back based on their level of play — rang in at $109.8 million; free food and beverage at $103.4 million; coupons for tokens or chips at $47.3 million; hotel, $12.8 million; entertainment, $6 million; valet parking, $2.9 million; and certain "retail" items, $874,000 (no description in records). That's a total of $283 million.

For the year ended March 31, 2005, total comps are $319 million, but no breakdown was available.

The minute the government got into the casino business, it got itself into all the sleaze and crookedness that goes with it. If private casinos want to hook high rollers with comps, that's their business. But the government has no compelling public interest to compete with Vegas and Atlantic City, and it is the height of hypocrisy to rail against gambling addiction and encourage more of it at the same time.

Source: Toronto Star

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