The social irresponsibility of lottery and liquor monopolies

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The ostensible policy reason why provincial governments justify their liquor and lottery monopolies comes down to that nifty albeit nebulous term known as “social responsibility.”

Social responsibility boils down to this: because alcohol and gambling have the power to negatively affect consumers – i.e., one might become an alcoholic or and/or go bankrupt – then the management of these vices simply cannot be trusted to the private sector. The private sector is all about money-obsessed capitalists making moolah regardless of the consequences, you see. So, if booze and blackjack were entrusted to those in the private sector, the next thing you know you’d have 12-year-olds guzzling down Colt 45 as they emptied their piggybanks at the roulette table.

But G is for government and G is for goodness, you see. And so it is that government, as opposed to private sector profiteers, always acts in good faith and in a socially responsible fashion.

That’s a load of crap, of course. And I will indeed present evidence to prove this point. But the crux of the matter is that social responsibility is the caveat governments cling to when justifying their monopolistic ways.

So I found it quite curious to learn that the ever scandal-plagued Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation recently decided to quietly jettison its social responsibility mission statement pertaining to sports wagering. Well, not officially, of course. But the OLG did say au revoir to social responsibility nevertheless, and in doing so, dismissed their very reason for existing.

You see, for decades, the OLG limited its sports gamblers to wagering no more than $100 per day. So, if you thought you had a sure thing parlay and you wanted to bet $500 or $5,000 or even $50,000, tough luck. You were confined to that $100 limit. You see, the socially responsible OLG didn’t want Joe Blow blowing the milk money on yet another doomed wager on the Toronto Maple Leafs, after all. That could lead to financial and family distress and who wants to see that play out?

Oh, and if you were a cheeky monkey and tried to exceed that $100 limit by purchasing multiple tickets at multiple different stores – and you were to win big, guess what? The OLG would simply refuse to payout on those winning wagers. The OLG would merely pay off on that first $100 bet, then refund the wagers on all subsequent wagers…and then they’d tell you to bugger off – without paying out on those remaining jackpots, of course. Because evidently, that was the socially responsible thing to do…

Get this: I was recently tipped off by a sports gambler that the OLG very quietly dropped the social responsibility $100 wager per day proviso vis-à-vis sports gambling.

Why? Well, there’s now some competition in the sports betting field in which limits do not apply. Why is there suddenly competition to the OLG’s monopoly? Well, Premier Doug Ford had to figure out a way to pay off his Liberal buddies. Oh, sure, it’s one thing for the Chief Cherry Cheesecake Enthusiast to say that he “stands shoulder to shoulder with Justin Trudeau.” But money talks and you-know-what walks, and Douggie’s growing cadre of Liberal cronies desperately need some dough-ray-me these days. And lots of it…

Indeed, check out an excerpt from the New Blue Party which exposes how Premier Ford decided to enrich his media party minions at the… Toronto Star? Oh, it’s true, it’s true…

Naturally, the online casinos want no part of wager limits, so what Torstar wants, Torstar gets. They don’t give a rodent’s rectum about a gambling addict losing his or her house. Which is kinda weird because the Toronto Star’s motto used to be “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Yeah, but that was way back when the Toronto Star was actually selling newspapers at a profit and Torstar wasn’t a penny stock company. These days, readers aren’t renewing their subscriptions and advertisers continue to abandon ship. Which means that there are far better profits to be had by running a casino rather than a woke-joke newspaper.

But surely the OLG would never acquiesce to limitless wagering, would it? Because unlike Northstar and all the rest, the OLG is socially responsible. But that was then and this is now. Because the OLG, in the face of online competition, has decided to withdraw its betting limits, too.

I decided to reach out to the OLG to find out how it was socially irresponsible to bet more than $100 on a baseball game back in August, but it is perfectly fine to do so today. And here is the word-soup response I received from the OLG’s communications department. And you tell me if the OLG’s Karine answered my query in a clear and concise way:

“OLG offers a competitive sportsbook, PROLINE+ and in-store PROLINE, backed by the confidence and trust our customers place in the OLG brand.

“We have recently updated a decades-old sports betting limit policy for PROLINE at retail that will improve our player and retail experiences. PROLINE customers in Ontario are no longer be restricted to betting $100 per day, per lottery retailer. The $100 cap applies to each sports wager.

“This update brings Ontario in line with prevailing practices across Canada and allows OLG to remain competitive in a growing sports betting market."

Huh? Was that really an answer to my question?

In any event, it would seem that the unclear message the OLG is trying to convey is this: ever since Fat Bastard opened up the online marketplace to competitors, screw social responsibility. So it is that the OLG’s new marketing mantra is “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Besides, have you checked out Ontario’s debt and deficit lately?

And by the way, is Karine high on something when she states that Proline is “backed by the confidence and trust our customers place in the OLG brand.” In fact, that is the marketing message being pushed at retail stores. Check out this poster that reads: “Proline: You’re trusted sportsbook since ’92.” Are you kidding me? If you wanted truth in advertising, the slogan would be: “OLG: Celebrating three decades of corruption since ‘92.”

I mean, “confidence and trust”? Surely this is not the same government entity that was the subject of the most scathing Ombudsman’s report in the history of Ontario? Check out the Ontario Ombudsman’s report from March of 2007, entitled “A Game of Trust”. This report was prompted by numerous scandals and allegations of “insider wins” that the OLG was embroiled in.

This report led to the dismissal of several senior OLG executives. But not all of the skunks were cleared out of OLG HQ. Many OLG head honchos who were part of a corrupt culture in which jackpots were being denied while the crown corporation turned a blind eye to insider wins remain gainfully employed at the OLG today – earning six-figure salaries, no less.

In any event, I reached out again to Karine, and politely stated that I don’t think she answered my query clearly. This time I got a response from Nicole Conte:

“Dear Mr. Menzies,

“As to your follow-up question, we believe we have answered your question in our initial response.

“As you are interested in our social responsibility policies when it comes to gaming, also known as our responsible gambling (RG) policies, allow us to share with you a news releases regarding our latest RG news:”

Oh, some breaking news on the gambling front, eh? And what news it is. Check it out:

“The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is continuing to expand its globally-recognized responsible gambling (RG) program, PlaySmart, with the launch of My PlayBreak. Our new enhanced and rebranded self-exclusion program offers customers more flexibility and choice — whether they want to take a break from play at an Ontario casino, Charitable Gaming Centre, or on OLG.ca.

“My PlayBreak offers several new features, including defined, renewable term lengths of 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, and 5 years — as well as optional check-in calls from Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) staff to allow for more timely, effective, and relevant referrals to treatment and support services.”

So, what does all that nonsense mean? Well, the OLG is offering gamblers to voluntarily exclude themselves from betting. But what if that compulsive gambler can’t help himself or herself and enters a casino and – hallelujah! – actually hits a jackpot at a slot machine or table game? Happy days are here again, right? Wrong. Because when the prize claim is made, the person cutting the cheque first checks out the OLG’s database. 

That’s right – no cadeaux! Um, how do you say “sucker” in French?

You see, self-exclusion –which has been an option for several years now – is simply not enforced. There are numerous people on the self-exclusion list who continue to visit Ontario casinos and gamble away their life’s savings even though these casinos have facial recognition technology… which apparently doesn’t work. And besides, why would the OLG want it to work? It’s good business given that the rubes tend to lose. And if they do happen to win, ha – no soup for you!

This is precisely what happened in 2017 to John Marando.

Mr. Marando scored a $10,000 jackpot at a casino. Well, sort of. You see, because he had signed a self-exclusion document some 17 years earlier, the OLG refused to pay him his winnings. Marando said at the time the OLG “Didn’t mind taking my money all these years. It sure would have been a nice sum. No, they don’t want to pay me.”

Granted, there’s an old saying in the gambling business that “The house always wins, baby!” But this is ridiculous!

Indeed, seeking clarity about the $100 bet limit being eradicated and the self-exclusionary policy, I phoned the OLG’s 1-800 customer service line. After waiting on hold for eternity plus a day, I finally got to speak with Carol.

By the way, there’s been a total blackout regarding mainstream media coverage about the OLG abandoning its social responsibility mandate. Now, why would that be? Could it be that lottery corporations and liquor boards are very big advertisers? So, if you are part of a sunset industry dependent upon government bailouts to make ends meet, are you really going to alienate the few advertisers that remain? One doesn’t practice journalism these days if a story is going to kill the golden goose, after all.

In the meantime, since the OLG has completely abandoned its very reason for existence, how about the Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives dismantle this corrupt dog that doesn’t hunt? Well, fat chance. Even if government’s role when it comes to lotteries and liquor should be confined to regulation and taxation. Period. Government – especially a conservative government – should not be in the business of selling and marketing booze and blackjack. Oh, wait a minute – I almost forgot: the current regime in power at Queen’s Park is about as Conservative as the Federal Liberal Party of Canada. Again, Doug Ford is adamant that he stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Prime Minister Blackface McGroper. So, when it comes to doing the right thing in terms of reigning in an out-of-control crown corporation such as the LCBO and the OLG, sorry: all bets are off.

GUEST: Jim Karahalious on Doug Ford to testify at the Public Order Emergency Commission

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