Peter McKenna, like all people morally opposed to an issue, be it Sunday shopping, big-box retail or gaming, just doesn’t want to acknowledge the facts and presents “information” that he knows (or ought to know) is either irrelevant or just plain wrong (re: “Can a VLT ban actually work?” July 1 opinion article).

The facts are: 

– The majority of adult Canadians (and around the world) like to gamble, whether it’s lottery, bingo, horse racing, casinos or VLTs (source: National Gaming Monitor 2007, PMG Consulting, April 2007).

– The overwhelming majority do so without problem or risk – problem gambling rates fell between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent across the country, and 0.8 per cent in Nova Scotia; and combined moderate-risk and problem gamblers average 2.5 per cent nationally, and two per cent in Nova Scotia (source: Canadian Gambling Digest 2004-2005, Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling).

– Canada (and Nova Scotia) is a world leader with regard to responsible gaming, allocating more than $90 million annually for research and treatment (source: Canadian Gambling Digest 2004-2005, Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling) – more per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Michelle Carinci, CEO of the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, was right when she spoke before the Newfoundland and Labrador public accounts committee: Illegal gaming flourishes under prohibition.

But you don’t need to take her or my word for this, just ask the police. It is the assessment and repeatedly expressed judgment of Canadian lawenforcement agencies that illegal gaming exists and was more widespread prior to the introduction of regulated, legal VLT gaming.

For instance, from the annual report of the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, “Illegal gambling machines produce tremendous profits. Nondeclared income from these machines is used by criminals to finance other criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering and enterprise crime offences.”

Mr. McKenna himself gives support to Ms. Carinci’s testimony when he states that some 100 illegal machines have been confiscated each and every month in South Carolina since abolition in July 2000. If his numbers are right, that’s 8,400 illegal gaming devices.

Mr. McKenna raises the “celebrated case of South Carolina,” often cited by those opposed to gaming, and unfounded as a comparison for gaming as it is conducted and managed in Atlantic Canada, including Nova Scotia.

More than 34,000 illegal gaming machines were operated in South Carolina (population 4.3 million) in 7, 500 various types of establishments – such as convenience stores, pizza parlours, bowling alleys, bars, gas stations and video game malls – in an uncontrolled and unregulated environment by individuals and organizations not subject to any licensing, scrutiny or oversight. Children were allowed to play the machines and convicted felons allowed to operate them.

To compare this with the reasoned and well-thought-out proactive approaches and programs instituted in Nova Scotia (population 934,000, with 2,234 machines operated by a Crown agency, all linked to a central system and deployed only in agecontrolled facilities) is disingenuous. In fact, South Carolina provides a clear and compelling example of the need for a coherent program like Nova Scotia’s, with clear rules and regulations and the enforcement of such.

That Mr. McKenna seeks to criminalize an activity that people enjoy, to cede significant non-tax revenues that pay for government programs and services to the criminal community, and to reallocate precious law-enforcement resources to accomplish this is neither right nor good public policy.

Bill Rutsey is president & CEO, Canadian Gaming Association.