Monday, December 05, 2005

Advent Monday #2

I walked into the choir room Sunday morning and found a discussion in progress about gambling, and keeping gambling winnings out of the collection plate. Maybe I missed something, but if you're worried about putting the winnings in the plate, shouldn't you just keep your hands off them altogether?

I used to be dead set against gambling in any form. Well, I suppose I'd make an exception for the poor fellow in the cartoon my Dad used to have posted just inside the door at the farm. The fellow is sitting talking to a counsellor at "Gamblers Anonymous," and saying, "I just can't seem to give up farming." Next-year country. Anyway, we used to resist all the minor forms of gambling that intruded in our lives. Whenever the kids brought home raffle tickets that we were supposed to sell, we'd just write a cheque for the full amount of the tickets, and send a note saying we didn't want our names in the draw. Sometimes we'd fill in the tickets with the name of the organization doing the fundraising. I never heard that any organization won its own prize back, but you never know.

My aversion to gambling had intensified when Ruth was three years old. She had joined the Poltava Ukrainian Dance program in Regina. For years her Uncle Brian had been playing in the Poltava Orchestra, and each year we had been going to watch the senior dancers perform (with the orchestra) at Mosaic. Ruth had a good year, and it was great fun to watch the little ones dance. The only problem was the mandatory participation of parents in bingo-hall fundraisers. Every so often we would be assigned as workers at a bingo, either circulating through the tables, or sitting behind a counter selling "Nevadas." I recall a woman coming up, buying all the Nevadas she could with the money she had, cashing in the winnings for more Nevadas, cashing in those winnings, and so on, until she had nothing left at all. As she went out the door onto Broad Street, the other parent working with me said she was a regular. I don't like to promote stereotypes, but to me that bingo hall looked like a big funnel siphoning welfare money off into sports and culture funding. The next year we told Ruth she couldn't return to the Ukrainian dancing because of the mandatory bingo work. She was a bit young to understand the reasoning, except that we didn't want to "get filled up with smoke."

When I served on the board of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, there was a discussion about going after lottery funding. I opposed the idea on moral grounds, but a member who attended our visioning workshop challenged me, saying something to the effect that it was not up to a native plant society to try to protect problem gamblers by opposing lotteries. He had a point. I noticed my vehemence in the discussions, and decided that such strong feelings were not a good thing. Just to teach myself moderation, I went and bought a token lottery ticket. (I didn't win anything.) Since that time, I have looked more openly at the various fundraisers going on in our community, and I came up with a new opinion.

I explained it to Ruth when we were selling slices of turkey shoot "pies" for the #723 Moose Mountain Squadron of the Air Cadets a couple of weeks ago. She hated the task, saying the whole thing was just gambling. I told her that most people are happy to support the Air Cadets, and they think of their purchase as a donation, with a little extra fun because they might win a little something.

I am okay with local fundraisers like these now, because of two qualities. One, people know where the money is going, so they can decide whether it's a cause they want to support. Two, the prizes are small enough that nobody is going to dream that their life could be changed if they win.

I'm still opposed to the big lotteries and casinos, where the above qualities are lacking. I think government should get out of the lottery business, and stay away from gambling altogether except to regulate some limits on the size of prizes and some clarity about where the money goes.

That clarity is important. We vote with our dollars. I think we should be more concerned about what happens to the money going into lotteries, than about whether a few dollars coming out happen to wind up on a church collection plate.

1 comment:

Madcap said...

I like your delineation between "donation" gambling, and "lose-your-life" gambling. It's a sensible compromise, the difference between Wednesday afternoon bingo in my grandma's senior's complex and all-day, every-day bingo in a huge bingo warehouse.

I figure if an organization can't function without major gambling proceeds, maybe they'll have to do without something. Kind of like we do around home....