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Lenora Steele: Nova Scotia clears way for online casino games, no matter the human cost

Atlantic Lotto launched an online casino for New Brunswick residents in August of 2020. (CBC)

It is 2:34 a.m. and the phone is ringing. No one calls at such an hour unless….I make the dash and twenty minutes later I am in the parking lot behind a downtown hotel boosting a friend whose engine died while she was inside with her credit card climbing a precarious cliff. She could not call home without betraying herself, so she called me. And the whole while as we were lifting hoods, attaching cables she was swearing, 

Never again. No. Never again.

And this is one story, one single story of one single woman and one single night but it isn’t, is it? 

Today, in Nova Scotia, according to, The Canadian Problem Gambling Index,  approximately 14,000 adults have been identified as at risk and 6,000 people have been identified as having a gambling problem/addiction.  

And to make it a little easier, a little more convenient, you don’t have to take off your slippers, button a coat, don a kerchief; now from the comfort of your own home, while it is still yours you can go online, yes online! that is, if the stakes aren’t high enough yet, our government is getting set to rectify that by adding slot machines and poker to the mix. 

Our former premier and our former finance minister both referred to this as more entertainment choices. What fun, watching one another lose our homes, our livelihoods, our self-respect. Entertainment? Online and alone. 

The Nova Scotia Gaming Commission (NSGC) in the fiscal year 2019-20 garnered $136.5 million in profits on games of chance, controlled and condoned in the name of good governance. 

The earnings for this pandemic year have not yet been calculated but odds are the takings will be considerably more than in previous years. A wager, anyone? 

And what of these monies? Are they put to good use, you ask? I believe for the most part that they are. The NSGC website gives a substantial list on the doling out of lottery earnings. But is this a good reason to up the ante? 

This government aspires to add high-risk games that will allow up to $100 on a single roll of a casino style slot machine and if it follows New Brunswick’s lead, up to $500 daily on Black Jack. 

And it begs the question, who does this government believe to be gambling? I am going to venture a guess and suggest it’s not the Irvings or the Sobeys or the Olands. So who among us thinks that $500  is a reasonable amount to lose in a province where the minimum wage rings in at $12.95? And $12.95 per hour in a  forty hour work-week means a minimum wage earner can spend in one day more than she will earn in one week.  

And for the record in New Brunswick where high stakes is already on their gambling website, minimum wage is at present, $11.70 but to be fair it is getting a  boost come the 1st of April, yes, a boost to $11.75. Call the neighbours and wake the kids, a five cent raise for oh so many essential workers! Play on!!

And when I have run out of time, money, hope, it will be a nice clean break. No muss, no fuss. The repo woman will come with a sheriff; there’ll be no gangster with a gun. Quick. Clean.  Easy. Gone. And here’s the rub, if by then you think you have a problem with gambling, the MLA you voted for is there to give you a hand. Yessiree,  you can roll your way into financial ruin and then add your name to a lengthy list for an addiction counsellors, funded by the very dollars from your own purse. 

And do we not need ask ourselves why this government proposed in the spring of last year legislation that would protect itself, the NSGC, Atlantic Lottery Corp (ALC), casino operators and cabinet ministers from gambling related lawsuits. What sort of democratically elected people think this democratic? 

Am I advocating a prohibition on games of chance. No. 

Do I think we should all be able to govern ourselves? Yes. 

Do I think we all can? No. 

Does this inability give the elected people leave to capitalize on the weaknesses of the people who hired them? Most certainly not.

Will our new Minister of Finance,  Hon. Labi Kousoulis also support this expansion of the government’s online casino and accept his 30 pieces of silver and call it responsible?

Will Nova Scotia’s new Premier. Hon. Iain Rankin see the human landscape of this province with the same cost calculating specs as his predecessor; will the justifications be the same; the revenue is used to bolster economic growth or the most disturbing,  if we don’t, someone else will? 

If the cost to individuals and families are ignored again and income at any price still speaks loudest there will come an election and a time to elect them that offer creative solutions to our monetary needs. A time to demand that those who seek a seat at Province House, put people before profit. 

Ignoring the human cost we are all culpable. Remaining silent and allowing our elected officials to proceed with this online, high stakes, casino style gambling, all the water in our aquifers won’t be enough to clean our collective hands. 

As for our friend and her oaths in a frigid parking lot, in the dead of night, never is not so long as it sounds. 

See also: The visitor, a poem by Lenora Steele

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