Gambling fever
big government bucks

Posted 01.25.06

I visited two casinos last summer. One, at Lac Leamy, Quebec, presented a repeat of last year's fabulous musical revue, "Broadway," in the Casino Theatre, and I decided I had to see it again, this time with a different group of friends.

The Casino Theatre is a wonderful addition to the area's performance spaces. With excellent sightlines, acoustics, and lighting, it offers professional productions of the highest calibre, with seating either in cabaret-style, at tables on tiered levels, or in the traditional auditorium arrangement.

There are distinct advantages to this venue. Parking is free and ample, and you don't have to enter the casino itself, if you're offended or annoyed by the noise of the slot machines.

The other casino I visited has a similar arrangement, but Fallsview in Ontario, which overlooks Niagara Falls, has its dramatic entry via a huge atrium. Large double doors fan off into the casino, the hotel, and the theatre, and the atrium is peppered with boutiques, food outlets, small performing spaces, and windows overlooking the stunning view.

I was part of a media tour to Fallsview, which included an exceptional meal in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. I've never been to the Lac Leamy's exclusive dining spot, Le Baccara, but a friend who reviewed it for a travel book told me it more than deserves its five stars.

But my reason for taking the Fallsview media tour was not to enjoy a lovely dinner and the breathtaking sight of Niagara Falls, but to see if Ontario's approach to gambling is any different from Quebec's.

The first thing I noticed was that at Fallsview, brochures advertising the Ontario Problem Gambling hotline were at every ATM. Quebec has an excellent selection of brochures as well, but they're racked beside the cloak room, easily ignored by those in line at the ATM.

Ontario's Responsible Gambling Council is the only organization of its type in the world, providing research, information, and awareness programs. Quebec has a 24-hour hotline, but the two brochures advertising this emphasize the "fun" of gambling and its entertainment value, pointing out that only when the individual descends into despair is this "gambling problem" considered serious.

Loto-Quebec's thirty-fifth anniversary brochure brags about its contribution to tourism and employment, and its generosity in supporting local events and charitable organizations. But those charities derive no money from Casino profits. Rather they are licensed by Loto-Quebec to operate bingos and lotteries.

Quebec's $1.5 billion in annual revenue (figures for 2003-2004), are a part of the $23 billion earned by government-run gambling across the country, which includes 60 permanent casinos as well as gambling machines and lottery ticket centres. Quebec is about to add another casino (with hotel and entertainment venues), in downtown Montreal. Its $1.75 million cost will undoubtedly be recouped very quickly, subsidized by the unfortunate hordes who will flock to its slot machines and roulette tables in a vain hope to hit the jackpot.

Meanwhile, our addiction to gambling has spread to television, where several new shows feature celebrities playing poker. Just what the poor need: further endorsement of this obsession that all our problems could be solved if only we're smiled on by Lady Luck.

Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. Her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/01.06