Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gambling on Toronto's Future

Proposed image of a downtown casino development in Toronto. Copyright 2012 Oxford Properties Group.

There's been quite a bit in the news about a proposed casino in downtown Toronto. I normally try and present a neutral stance about things on this blog, but in this case I can't; I'm pretty vehemently anti-gambling. As a transplant from Nova Scotia, I was very disappointed by the (at the time) newly-elected NDP government's decision to backtrack their position on VLTs. I think there are serious economic costs associated with any form of legalized gambling, that often outweigh the economic benefits.

But, at the same time I understand that people have the right to do lots of harmful things to themselves. Heck, I enjoy the occasional drink, and have gambled before at the casino in Halifax (I won $80 after playing a slot machine for 3 minutes, and quit for the rest of the night. I was the only one of my friends that walked away richer). I'd be a hypocrite to suggest that the government wrap people in legislative bubble-wrap to prevent them from harming themselves, especially when alcohol causes a laundry list of negative ills.

That's why you try and take the good with the bad, and use the good in order to help fight bad. If Toronto is going to have a casino, then we should make sure that the revenue that it generates is diverted to social programs that help combat ills such as gambling addiction and crime. Too often the money generated by a social ill - such as liquor taxes - get placed into the general revenue, in order to prevent "general" tax increases (i.e. PST/HST).

This is a poor way of handling "new" revenue streams. For example, if you have an issue with traffic congestion, you should use revenue tools such as road tolls in order to fix the traffic congestion; it shouldn't be used to prevent a property tax increase.

So while I fundamentally believe that there is no economic or moral reason for having a casino in Toronto, if we're going to have it, let's make sure it causes the least amount of harm possible. I may not get what I want, and Mayor Rob Ford may not get what he wants, but we'd (hopefully) get something neither of us vehemently dislike, and that's the nature of compromise isn't it?


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