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Betting the House: Winners, Losers and the Politics of Canada’s Gambling Obsession

by Brian Hutchinson

This is a polemic against government-sponsored gambling in Canada. Author Hutchinson, whose 1998 book on the Bre-X scandal, Fool’s Gold: The Making of a Market Fraud, wowed critics, tells a compelling tale of workers gambling away their children’s education money and governments consorting with crooks to build casinos that devastate the workers’ towns. He describes, among others, the huge Casino Windsor, several casinos run by native people on their reserves, and a casino in Nova Scotia located just across the street from a toxic waste site. He argues that gambling’s detritus is not worth its social cost.

On this anecdotal evidence, Hutchinson proposes that provincial governments stop further casino and lottery development, that they divert gambling profits to help gambling addicts, that they shut down video lottery terminals and scratch and win lottery ticket sales, and that they broadcast anti-gambling messages.

Hutchinson does not evaluate whether a nation of gamblers deprived of customary games would move to gambling run by criminal organizations, which traditionally offer better odds than government-run gambling. Further, if risk taking and loss of capital are bad for gamblers, how about the effect of dubious penny stocks on investors? The vast majority of such securities are sheer sucker bait. How about horse racing and, for that matter, office betting pools? And what of the availability of casinos just across Canada’s vast border with the U.S.?

In spite of its shortcomings, Betting the House is a provocative read for anyone concerned with whether governments should run gaming rackets that are, as Hutchinson says, slaughterhouses for the foolish.