Fewer Canadians bet but spend more money

Fewer Canadians are gambling but those who do spend more, creating a veritable jackpot for governments, a recent Statistics Canada report shows.

Net revenue from government-run lotteries, video lottery terminals (VLTs) and casinos rose to USD 13.3 billion in 2006 from USD 2.7 billion in 1992.

Even so, the 69 per cent of households that reported at least one gambling activity in 2005 was a slight decline from 74 per cent five years earlier.

The average Canadian spent USD 513 gambling in 2005, ranging from a low of USD 111 per capita in the territories to USD 750 per person in Alberta. One in seven Canadians living alone said they spend money on gambling, but men spend more than three times as much as women – us$ 1,396 compared with us$ 434.

Canada really is a gambling nation – much higher rates of gambling participation than most other countries in the world,“ said Robert Williams, co-ordinator of the Alberta Gaming Research Institute. There are simply more gambling opportunities in Canada than elsewhere, he says, whereas many US states don’t have a casino or even a lottery.

According to the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary-based think tank, there are 87,000 gambling machines (slot machines and video terminals) in Canada, 33,000 lottery ticket centres, 60 permanent casinos, 250 racetracks and 25,000 licences to run charity bingos, temporary casinos and raffles.

StatsCan reported gambling rates and the amount spent increase as household income rises, but families with the least money spend the biggest proportion of their income gambling.

Casinos raked in one-third of such revenues in 2006, while lotteries accounted for 25 per cent and VLTs 23 per cent. Slot machines outside of casinos contributed 19 per cent, according to StatsCan surveys on the labour force and household spending.

Arrangements vary depending on the jurisdiction and type of gaming, Williams said, but provincial governments take „the lion’s share“ of gambling revenues, netting an average of 85 per cent from casinos and VLTs. „There’s an awful lot of misery and illness and family breakup and bankruptcy going on in order for the government to make that money,“ said Doug Little.

The Ottawa resident knows first-hand. His 2002 book, Losing Mariposa: The Memoir of a Compulsive Gambler, chronicles the addiction that cost him his marriage and job and led him to take tens of thousands of dollars from charity casino accounts in a bid to keep his head above water.

The true cost of gambling in this country is never discussed, said Little, now recovered and a director of the Canadian Tulip Festival. It will probably never disappear as long as it continues to provide a government windfall, he acknowledged, but there should be greater responsibility. „The government needs to be back in the gambling control business and out of the gambling promotion business,“ he said.