The Calgary Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel on government-run online gambling
Albertans are already spending over $100 million annually on 'grey market' sites
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is considering getting into the online gambling business.
You wouldn't have to go to a casino to spin a slot machine, or play poker — you'd be able to do it from your couch.
The money made would go into government coffers.
But is this necessarily a good thing?
That's the question the Calgary Eyeopener asked the Unconventional Panel on Wednesday.
- Click the audio button to hear the panel conversation.
George Brookman is the CEO of West Canadian Industries, Cory Mack is a comedian, and Shelley Youngblut is a Calgary writer.
The three Calgarians weighed in on this issue with host David Gray.
What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation:
David Gray (DG): Shelley, we're going to start with you. What do you think of the proposal?
Shelley Youngblut (SY): Okay, I confess, I do in fact go to casinos and I play tournament poker.
But I never play the slots, I've never played a VLT in my life, I think it's the devil's pastime.
And I think that online gambling, and I know a little bit about this in terms of the research I've done, it's incredibly dangerous and I don't think we need the money that much.
DG: George still can't get over the fact that you play poker in casinos.
George Brookman (GB): I'm actually stunned. Tournament poker. I can't imagine you doing that.
SY: Come on down, George! Come on down, you've got some coin.
DG: What do you make of this, George?
GB: First of all, I am opposed to gambling like that.
I like to go down to Las Vegas and play blackjack so don't think I don't like gambling, but I am opposed to online gambling.
But I'm going to put a proviso on this.
First of all, I feel like we're the Roman Empire, right, how do you extract more tax out of the people, the people who can least afford it, without actually raising taxes?
But I think if you said all the gambling, the lotteries, what have you, all of it went to health care or to build a new cancer centre or whatever, I think I could get on board.
But this idea that we just gamble and put it into general revenue and then just hope for the best, I'm totally opposed to it.
DG: Alright. Cory?
Cory Mack (CM): We have got to diversify, my people.
We have got to diversify. I'm not a gambler, I've been to Vegas and never touched a machine.
The reality is I think it's the easy way out.
We also could legalize prostitution and get some more money, we could tax, we could make weed legalized and get some money on that, get some taxes.
But the real work has to be done.
We have to have some progressive taxes, we have to have some sales tax.
All the other provinces except Alberta and Saskatchewan have this online gambling but they also have provincial tax.
So let's do some real work. It's also, you know, an addiction.
DG: So who's addicted in this case? Are you worried about the people on their couches, or is it the government that's addicted to gambling revenues?
CM: Well, that's the thing. You're addicted to easy money, like off the back of someone who has a mental health issue where they're addicted to gambling.
You might have a little sticker on a mirror in the bathroom that says, 'Don't gamble, you're never going to win.'
GB: But when we brought in lotteries, didn't we bring in lotteries and the idea was all the proceeds would go to health care?
It was later on when it became such a big number that people said, 'oh, we'd better phone the community lotteries fund, and we're gonna be politicians and dole this money out to people and make ourselves look special'.
But the reality is, if we'd left that money going into health care, we wouldn't be wondering whether we should build a new cancer centre or not, we'd just build the thing.
SY: One of the things that fascinates me about this, it turns out that after they give away the winnings — the so-called winnings — each Albertan is accruing $737 to this fund, whether you gamble or not.
So you have to know that there's a small percentage of people who can probably least afford to lose who are putting in thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.
And these are the same people that balk when they have to pay $10 more on a civic tax, or on a property bill with $100 more on their tax.
Where is the logic? It's so weird to me.
DG: Some of this revenue goes to charities. If people are going to gamble regardless, why shouldn't the government be involved?
SY: It makes it more palatable. I'm saying this as a woman.
GB: Not just as a woman. But as a tournament-poker playing woman.
SY: Yes, as a tournament-poker playing woman.
One of the areas that is really dangerous with online gambling in particular, is it's women.
And women will come home and they're overworked and they're tired, and they get on their computer and no one's watching.
None of the societal norms, they can just do it in secret and they can just keep playing and playing and playing.
Now the limit in Ontario for the amount you can gamble in a week is $10,000.
That's what they consider to be a safe limit!
CM: And they're going to send you social media messages saying 'tut-tut— that's a lot!'
GB: And the other thing you can't ignore — and I've stated I'm opposed to it — but the online world is changing everything, right?
So Alberta is going to legalize online gambling, but I guarantee there's ways of gambling online in your own home right now if you want to.
It's like all the bad things that we do, you might as well figure out a way to have it actually be a benefit to society if you can, and that's got to be health care.
DG: If gambling is yet another vice, the government has been involved in other vices, through taxation or other ways, they regulate it.
I talked to the head of the AGLC yesterday, he said they would have programs to help problem gamblers.
I'm just repeating what he told me as you all shake your heads.
And if some of the money goes to charities, and if it's happening anyway, again: why shouldn't the government get involved?
GB: If it's happening anyway, then the government should get involved because at least that puts some standards to it, or some box around it.
DG: So you're in favour.
GB: No, I'm fundamentally opposed to the idea, but if the government is involved, it's got to be a benefit to society somehow.
SY: It's a pretty leaky box that they're trying to put around it.
It's all self-regulating. You can decide if you want to get banned from the casino.
You can tell your computer, no don't let me play, but you can also tell your computer, yeah, let me play.
There's no real regulation around it, and the thing that scares me is they want to bring in untapped revenue.
They want to bring in younger people who are on the internet, they want to bring in women, they want to bring in people who are too, for whatever reason, nervous to go into a casino where you're seen.
I mean there's somebody at the casino that can tap you on the shoulder.
There's nobody in your bedroom at three o' clock in the morning.
DG: Alright. To be clear, you're against it?
SY: I, the gambler, am against it.
DG: George is against it in principal, but for it.
GB: I'm against it, but if they're going to do it, all the proceeds should go to health care.
CM: I'm against it. They haven't even mentioned giving any money to anybody, really, to charities.
I think we need to work harder and to find different ways. Or tax everything.