All in

I was standing in line at a corner store recently waiting for the man ahead to buy what I thought were a few lottery tickets. The process seemed to be taking longer than usual so I began paying more attention. Turned out he was playing Poker Lotto, a watch-and-win game that offers instant prizes. His first batch of poker hands brought no winners, so he tried again, and got two free plays. I thought, have I come to the wrong place to buy my Dentyne Ice? After he’d spent more than $50, he walked away a loser.

We all know people who are hooked on gambling. After a friend died, his lost and lonely wife became addicted to the slots. A man I know plays away his pension cheque every month leaving his spouse as the sole breadwinner. If the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation goes through with its plan to privatize operations to companies who really know what they’re doing when it comes to taking money from suckers, I can’t imagine the havoc that will be wreaked on families.

Let me declare my small conflict. I play 6/49. In fifteen years, my biggest win was $68. But even I might go to a casino if the facilities were better. I stopped a few weeks ago at Mohawk Racetrack, thinking the casino near Highway 401 between Toronto and Guelph might have a good restaurant. The best in the house turned out to be a desultory place with decor one step up from linoleum. No one was eating there, despite the fact that it was lunch hour.

Nor has Mohawk done much for the surrounding area, unchanged since the 1980s with a gas station, donut shop and the Mohawk Inn.┬áThe Inn’s dining facilities were no better than the casino. There were precisely two others in the room, both sitting at the bar. The food was mediocre. I didn’t check out the accommodation, but shag carpet comes to mind. Casinos in this province don’t draw tourists and they don’t create a nucleus for other facilities nearby.

So when I read the comment by MGM Grand, the hotel and casino company looking to build a facility in Toronto, “We don’t just build stand-alone casinos,” I was intrigued. I’m no great gambler. While at a conference in Las Vegas recently, I spent two nights at Harrah’s slots and blackjack tables, leaving both times after a few hours when I’d lost my modest $25 stake. I figured that was cheap entertainment for an evening. If we’re going to have casinos in Ontario we should turn the business over to the experts. If we’re all on the road to hell, we might as well have the most fun possible along the way.

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