News early this week that the provincial government plans to expand gambling to ferries on major routes did not come as a surprise to me. It's something I've often thought would be the next logical step from a government that sees gambling revenue as a bottomless well.
The ferries, after all, are more than an extension of the highway system. For some time, BC Ferries has been selling the "voyage" – as it calls the 90-minute trip to the island – in quasi-cruise-ship terms. Adding slot machines to the mix makes sense in its grand scheme.
For opponents of expanded gambling, however, introducing slots to a public utility such as the ferries is another indication of how far a government will sink to pry dollars out of those too poor to pay any substantial amount in tax. Sandy Garossino – the plain-spoken anti-gambling activist who campaigned against casino expansion in Vancouver – asked rhetorically this week, "What's next? Hospital emergency wards? Parent-teacher interviews?"
Now Ms. Garossino, that's just silly.
Parent-teacher interviews don't last nearly long enough for anyone to take advantage of any gambling opportunity. And where would you even put the slot machines?
As for hospital emergency wards – I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it could work. They do have the key ingredient of a captive audience. While a ferry ride may last less than two hours, anyone with any kind of worthwhile injury could spend three or four times that amount of time waiting for treatment in an emergency ward, with precious little to do. Also, people waiting in the ER with serious issues may be thinking about their own mortality and how to provide for their families should things not go so well. Winning big tonight would sure make things easier for the wife and kids.
Another suggestion I heard this week by someone – I'm guessing a non-gambler – trying to make a point was that the last car of each SkyTrain should be converted into a casino car. Let's think this through: If you put the machines inside the car, passengers not able to get onto the overcrowded regular SkyTrain cars will pile into the casino car, with no guarantee that they'll actually gamble once inside.
But putting slots into the stations and on platforms? That's a solid-gold idea. Once again, there is the captive-audience component, but the government could actually manipulate gambling revenues by adjusting the frequency of the trains. Coffers a little low, pre-budget? Where is that train anyway? Also, the machines would be Compass Card compatible.
But don't stop at public transit or hospitals. A person shouldn't be able to travel more than 50 metres in any direction without encountering some opportunity to gamble or at the very least a billboard advertising the lottery. See that guy in his pyjamas playing Keno in the corner store at 8 a.m. on a Sunday? He's the province's gambling poster-guy.
There's no reason that every public facility can't have some gambling component. Think of all the wasted space in community centres, ice rinks, public pools and driver's licensing offices – not to mention the vastly underused floor space in the BC Supreme Court Building at Robson Square. The wheels of justice may grind slowly, but time flies when you measure it in rolls of quarters.
Meanwhile, back on the ferries, the children's play areas will have to be reduced in size to accommodate the ever-growing on-board casinos. Don't worry, though – there will still be plenty for the kids to do. The naturalists who currently teach kids about ocean creatures and protecting the environment would be replaced by Craps the Crab and Lucky the Leopard Seal – two loveable, huggable, plush mascots who go table to table on the upper decks teaching kids the finer points of blackjack, high-fiving the toddlers, and handing out "L'il Gamer™" stickers to the ones who can read. Because cultivating the next generation of gamblers will, like LNG, ensure our future as a province.