(Vancouver Courier, April 13, 2011)
In less enlightened times, long before global warming and Twitter, the morality of the self-righteous ruled the New World. Public policy often sprang from the pulpit, crafted by legalistic interpretations of the Bible. It was all Old Testament, little grace.
Between world wars, cultural architects on both sides on the 49th parallel eyed the evils of alcohol. Groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League pressured legislators into Prohibition, creating underground speakeasies and Al Capone. After years of “illegal” drinking, Prohibition was repealed among a hail of popped corks and derby hats.
Last weekend in Vancouver, we went back in time. The derby hats are gone but the furrowed brows remain. During two public hearings at city hall, anti-gambling advocates lined up behind the lectern. In an age of moral relevance, their message is refreshingly clear. Gambling’s a scourge that must be stamped out. And a proposed downtown casino near B.C. Place, with 1,200 slot machines and 150 games tables, will ruin our city.
“Half the money in casinos is spent by people who think they’re entertaining themselves,” said Fred Bass, former city councillor and seasoned demagogue, who compared the casino industry to Big Tobacco and gamblers to mindless drones.
Rev. Andrew Cheung, leader of Harvest City Church on Victoria Drive, appeared in jeans and untucked dress shirt, and while stone-faced councillors looked on, talked about tragedies he witnessed as a pastor. A boarded up restaurant sunk by gambling debt. An addicted mother who chose slot machines over her children. And a “young man who is no longer alive because of gambling debt.”
The anti-gambling movement mobilized last year after Paragon Gaming, a Las Vegas-based company, announced its Vancouver casino plan. The movement corals all types—the religious and the secular, the political and the polemic—who’ve spoke at city hall during a series of public hearings. As a council vote looms, a vocal and well-organized group titled Vancouver, not Vegas keeps the anti-casino message in the news, stoking public fear and misunderstanding.
For example. Retired VPD Sgt. Bob Cooper, a former homicide investigator, posted a statement on the group’s website, detailing a grisly scene from his days on the job. “A man lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over 24 hours in a Burnaby casino. He went home, murdered his wife and two small children, spread gasoline around his East Vancouver house then struck a match blowing the house off its foundations and killing himself in the process.”
To summarize Cooper’s position: gambling equals addiction, which inevitably leads to triple homicide.
The group’s website is rife with specious argument. The proposed casino, it proclaims, will “normalize and legitimate the idea of gambling.”
What cave do these folks live in? What century is this? Aside from porn and YouTube, gambling is the most popular online pastime. Poker has replaced conversation in basement gatherings far and wide. There are 11 casinos in the Lower Mainland including the Edgewater in northeast False Creek—site of the proposed casino in question.
More from the group’s website. It claims the proposal’s 1,200 slot machines will serve as a “massive and convenient temptation” to residents of the impoverished Downtown Eastside. But anyone vaguely familiar with the neighbourhood knows that most residents—for a variety of reasons—would sooner shop at Whole Foods than drop $20 on a roulette table.
Finally, the website notes “all the associated traffic that will constantly flow in and out of the mega-casino complex—300 cars per hour, and a significant portion of it related to organized crime.”
Ah yes. The green angle. What Vancouver protest is complete without apocalyptic predictions of environmental danger. Let’s see. Three hundred cars multiplied by 24 hours, plus a “significant portion” of gangsters, equals one million gangsters entering northeast False Creek every week. Nobody wants that.
Whatever its genesis, the anti-casino movement has degenerated into a silly circus of demonization unworthy of serious public debate. Build this casino now, complete with a 100-foot bell tower symbolizing free market principles and personal responsibility. Casinos are legal businesses. Gambling, like eating or drinking, is a personal choice made by adults with their own money. Human frailty never justifies an expanded Nanny State. We don’t need self-righteous moralists to save us from ourselves.