Anyone who finds their way into a modern casino — whether it’s in Halifax or Las Vegas or on the side of a highway on the road to Fredericton — will notice something very quickly.
VLT in a Newfoundland bar. — Telegram file photo
Casinos are flashy and expensive and, above all, technologically equipped to separate money from their “guests.”
And it’s guests; that’s what they call their customers. Perhaps the word “sucker” is too obvious.
Look up and you’ll see a ceiling studded with the domes of hundreds of surveillance cameras, cameras that monitor every inch of the gaming floor and many other places besides. In front of you, there are the lights and bells of video terminals that use human psychology and the most basic of human frailties to encourage you to spend more, to chase your losses, to keep putting bills into an electronic maw particularly designed to take your money.
Card games are set to ensure the odds always favour the house, and in the end, the house always wins. Should you, against all odds, find a way to regularly win, the one-way eyes of the camera will ensure you’re recognized and discretely “un-invited” from the playing area.
Casino executives like to talk about “improving the gaming experience,” as if they were suggesting the whole thing is like a theme park with stationary rides.
But the truth is that everything in a casino is 100 per cent paid for by the players, and, in this country, the government and the company that actually owns the facility end up splitting the more-than-healthy profits paid for by the guests on the floor.
A casino, to put it bluntly, exists only to collect money from those willing to give it up. And casinos gather that money remarkably well.
For years, successive Newfoundland and Labrador governments have looked at the casino equation and have come to the same conclusion: given that few people would pay airline fees to come to this province to plop themselves down on a casino seat just like any other, the customers who would pay for the casino and the profits would wind up being residents of this province.
In other words, instead of being a source of new finances for the province, a casino here would merely churn around existing cash and harvest a new tax out of its profits, albeit disguised as something else. Sort of like Muskrat Falls, but without even the benefit of providing electricity.
Because of that, governments have made a relatively easy choice: they make their gambling harvest through video lottery terminals instead, and don’t take quite such an obvious public relations hit.
Now, that seems to be changing. Even though the Tory government’s own research points out the weakness of the business case, the Tories now say they aren’t ruling out considering casino suggestions.
Well, they should be ruling it out. Recycling money won’t help anything. If this was a public health issue, it would be the equivalent of bathing in each other’s bathwater. And just about as good for us all.