So it seems the desperate for cash Ontario government has come up with a new way of making money. They're getting into online gambling.
I seldom gamble recreationally because I have to do too much of the real life version when it comes to my career. But a lot of people do, with off-shore sites now reaping Billions in profits.
I'll leave the morality of governments getting into all that to others. At least the problem gambler suicides will likely happen at home now instead of causing a nasty scene in a casino washroom.
As an economic decision, owning a virtual casino probably looks pretty good in theory. But Canadian governments are also the only casino operators in the world who have consistently not done well at the trade.
Some of that's due to their insistence on supporting their social programs by eliminating smoking, free drinks and other frowned upon vices in their establishments. The mindset which once decreed you had to buy a meal in Ontario before you could order a drink on the Sabbath is alive and well.
Most of the losses, however, come from running while also regulating the industry. I had a Las Vegas casino manager once tell me that he'd turned down a job in Canada because it was career suicide -- "Everybody knows you're part of a rigged game up there".
His point was that when you both own the casino and make its rules, the house has an even bigger advantage, one it can't help but exercise when times get tough. Players eventually realize their chances of winning are always being reduced and they take their money elsewhere.
And it would appear the same approach will eventually turn online gambling into a money losing government initiative. In order to sell the idea, Ontario insists it will limit the amount of time anyone can play as well as how much they can wager over a set period of time. Yeah, that'll make the hard core players close out their accounts in Antigua.
They also claim they'll operate more secure and trustworthy sites than those off-shore fly-by-nighters. Tell that to folks in British Columbia, whose government opened their own online casino last month. The site went down in the first hour after it was discovered that dozens of accounts had been hacked so gamblers could bet with somebody else's money. Four weeks later, they still aren't open for business.
But here's where this impacts those of us who make movies and TV for a living.
To be successful at the poker table, you need to know how to play the cards you're dealt. But more important, you need to know what the other guys at the table probably have in their hands. That means reading the "tells", those little ticks and idiosyncrasies that telegraph whether or not somebody is bluffing.
Well, our governments aren't bluffing. They're financially stretched to the limit.
Tell #1: This morning, amid reports that an entire hospital ward in Victoria is being readied for hundreds of arriving Tamil refugees thought to be suffering from Tuberculosis, I heard one Toronto talk show caller assert that her husband can't get speech therapy because the Ontario Health Insurance Plan claims they can no longer afford to fund his treatment.
Tell #2: Despite mounting evidence that the newly introduced HST is wreaking havoc with construction trades and the real estate market, that restaurant business is off 25 - 40% and even golf courses have seen a precipitous drop in greens fees, the Legislature is not rethinking its implementation.
Tell #3: Although thousands of artists mounted a spirited campaign against the British government's decision to axe its version of Telefilm, the UK Film Council, that decision is final.
Our governments will need to go "All-in" sometime soon. And let's not forget who brought the deck we're all playing with and shuffled the cards.
The Minister in charge of the UKFC went so far as penning a column for the Left leaning Guardian to lay out his reasoning for closing down the UKFC, noting how many millions had been saved in everything from car allowances to officials' salaries. In effect, claiming that more money could flow to filmmakers now than had under government supervision.
You gotta know somebody over here is reading that column, noting how little a public anxious over its own health care and crumbling roads seemed to care and is putting a checkmark next to Arts funding on their "Where can we cut" list.
Those are the cards we're about to be dealt. Maybe in the next federal budget. Maybe in the first one that follows our next election. So we need to start getting ready to play this hand as intelligently as we can.
I've heard all the arguments about every dollar spent on the Arts multiplying "X" fold. For years American governments claimed every dollar in Food Stamps created $1.71 in the broader economy. Now they are cutting the Food Stamp Program back. You can use statistics a lot of ways, but they've never seemed to work in our favor.
We can threaten that governments don't want to piss off the Arts community. But that's the same argument that says they have to bring Omar Khadr home to placate the Muslim community or allow boatloads of Tamil refugees to land so as not to upset their Diaspora.
Artists don't vote in blocs anymore than Muslims do and for every artist you satisfy you piss off some guy hanging drywall. We need to get out of Groupthink and start thinking about what helps us as a Group that's part of a broader culture.
I've long advocated weaning ourselves off the government teat. But we're still going to need to find sustenance somewhere.
Maybe the financing can be found online. But with a massive government sponsored campaign pending to tell Canadians how easy and fun it is to spend their web time gambling, that uphill battle will get much steeper in the short term.
In my opinion, our best strategy is to lobby for clearing the shelf space for the goods we already sell and then making their availability known.
In past postings, I've talked about setting aside a specific percentage of movie screens for Canadian content and mounting initiatives to encourage networks into putting more Canadian programming in Prime Time. Maybe that won't solve all we're facing, but it will help us survive until the economy gets better or smarter ideas come along.
Because when you're sitting at a table with somebody who needs money right now and doesn't care who he has to hurt to get it, your best option is to find another game.