Opinion

NELSON: B.C. government is addicted to gambling

FACE TO FACE: Are casinos good public policy for local & provincial governments?

Thanks to Mayor Dianne Watt and some anti-casino catcallers, Gateway’s mega casino proposal crapped out at last Friday’s Surrey city council meeting.

But while congratulating politicians and local, vocal crème de la crème White Rock NIMBYs, I fear it’s futile to go to the mattresses against casinos — even though we should.

I’ll bet you five large that Surrey has a huge casino very soon — B.C.’s future largest city needs the lettuce, and they’d be chumps to give it a pass.

Other Metro Vancouver and B.C. cities have the lowdown on the gambling racket as an irreplaceable source to bleed for hard scratch.

Since the Boulevard Casino’s opening, Coquitlam’s cut of the racket has been $85 million (10% of the take). Chimo Pool, Percy Perry Stadium, Coquitlam Sports Centre and the new Coquitlam Public Library branch all wet their beaks in Coquitlam’s gambling rake-off.

Burnaby has parlayed $109 million from gambling into a ticket to prosperity. New Westminster’s whack is $72 million and even Cranbrook has 13 million reasons for staying quiet about the evils of gambling — that’s some long green.

You get the point: Our reliance on gambling proceeds is huge — almost criminal.

There are 46 casinos in B.C., each providing irreplaceable revenues to governments. B.C. has the highest percentage of casino proceeds of any province in Canada.

In lieu of a fair, progressive income tax system to which we are apparently averse, government is increasingly funded from gambling proceeds and flat fees. Provincially, annual gambling proceeds are $1.2 billion. MSP premiums yield $1.86 billion (up 95% since 2002), and fee-based goods and services bring in $4 billion per year.

Meanwhile, 10 years of tax cuts have benefitted the top 1% of B.C.’s earners 4.1% more than the bottom half.

Other than being another way to tax the poor, the real immorality of our increased dependence on casino revenues is that it increasingly provides the funding that allowed B.C. to shift from a slightly progressive income tax system in 2000 to our current regressive system, where, at last, in 2012, the more you make, the less income tax you pay.

We don’t need more casinos, we need a progressive system of taxation.

But most of all, we need a new pit boss and bunch of new dealers.

Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.

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