Spirit Quest on gambling

Spirit Quest

A wheel of fortune . . . or misfortune

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

07 June 2013 — Mayor (still) Rob Ford of Toronto and Jim Watson, mayor of Ottawa have very little in common, you will agree, except that both  are fans of the casino idea of municipal financing. Both sense a bonanza for funding projects which budgets seem shy of incorporating.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), is an agency of the government of Ontario (Ministry of Culture) and one of Canada’s leading grant making foundations. It was created in 1982. Foundation grants are provided to eligible Ontario not-for-profit and charitable organizations in the areas of arts and culture, the environment, human and social services and sports and recreation. As such it fulfills an important role. Its funding is derived from lotteries.

It has been suggested that lotteries and other forms of gambling are an alternate form of taxation. The difference between taxation and funding through the avails of gambling  is that the one is compulsory and the other free will. All of us must pay our taxes, municipal, provincial and federal,  to underwrite the business of our country. Visiting  the perimutual window at the race track, or buying one of the many types of  lottery tickets available at the grocery store check-out counter,  is of our own free will. They hold out the possibility of getting something if not for nothing but the chance of winning big. We are enticed by the news of multimillion dollar lottery winnings - it could be you, “you can’t win if you don't play.”

When I was a teenager I got some sense of the thrill of gambling.  From time to time our small community hosted a street party. Among the entertainment was a wheel of fortune  where with a small investment, no more than a dime, one could double one’s input. I have a memory of plopping down my ten cent piece with sweaty fingers and watching the big wheel as it went through its gyrations and hopefully come to a halt at the symbol I had chosen.

On my first venture into the field of gambling, "Luck was a Lady tonight" as the song goes in the musical Guys and Dolls which was all about New York's longest floating crap game. I went home that evening with a pocket full of change. I also sensed the attraction of the wheel, a small thrill but nevertheless a thrill.

Standing by the check-out counter at the supermarket I have seen something of that emotion as customers purchase "instant winning" tickets, and occasionally making a win.

I have also visited casinos, not to indulge in the various ways of playing, but to observe the customers, if that is the appropriate name, as they press buttons, pull handles, dish out chips on gaming tables under the sober eyes of a croupier .

I have seen the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as the sportscaster used to call it. And the agony can be devastating  as can the thrill of the win.

I have watched buses from distant places  arrive at the casino doors with people anxious to enter the gaming establishment, to trade their cash for chips  and to take their place at the variety of machines and tables. Some undoubtedly are capable of enforcing a budget on their playing   while others keep their credit cards at the ready to underwrite their investments. Many have fun but others return home broke  often to broken homes and impoverished families.

Those funds that send our mayors salivating come from people who have indulged in the game of chance, who, while objecting to any tax increase, can be enticed  to return again and again  to the  rattling machines, the ringing bells and flashing lights, to try and try again.

Gambling has been designated as a disease, a powerful addiction  which, like alcohol, has caused a variety of mental and physical maladies  including death.

Rather than more casinos and lotteries, our governments  need to institute more progressive forms of taxation. Instead they hear the pleas for a flat tax  which is anything but flat but allows the wealthy to remit relatively less  than those on the lower end of the income ladder.

My dime at the street party that I saved from my allowance and wages from washing windows was certainly of more value than that of my older gambler friends who had steady jobs, for whom a dime was a pittance  while for me it meant a hot-dog or a coke.

In my articles I write about the presence of a Spirit in the world and in our lives. But I am also conscious of inner demons that urge us to get something for little or nothing. Indeed they do battle with one another.

Just as we war against disease so let us also be open to the Spirit’s urging for healing and justice.