Top News

Russell Wangersky: Gambling on the lure of free money

Offshore companies don't pay local taxes, don't create jobs and hurt local economy.
(File Graphic)
Offshore companies don't pay local taxes, don't create jobs and hurt local economy. (File Graphic)

Who wouldn’t like free money in the mail?

I got exactly that, only with a few strings attached.

First, the back story: in late 2014, in order to write a column on the Atlantic Lottery Corp.’s foray into online gambling, I took $20 and set up an online gaming membership. I wanted to see how the process worked. I played some games, wrote the column, and let the account slide into dormancy.

Then, late last week, a plain white business envelope — no return address, my name on the front — was dropped into my mailbox.

It was from Atlantic Lotto, and it started out “We miss you!”

They missed me so much, apparently, that they sent me $20 in “promo cash” to come back and gamble on their site again.

I suppose it was in a blank envelope because they didn’t want anyone to know that I was an internet gambler. I’m also glad I’m not a recovering gambling addict. (It would be the equivalent of the liquor store sending a recovering alcoholic a coupon for a free flask of vodka.)

To be clear, Atlantic Lotto isn’t doing anything that other gambling operations don’t do; in fact, other operations are far more blatant. If you have a relative who frequents a casino enough to have a player’s card, you’ll know about the deluge of mail they get, and about the way that mail gets ever-more enticing the longer their player’s card doesn’t get inserted into a machine.

But it did give me a chance to delve into the dangerous world of internet gambling again, playing something as innocuous as a crossword puzzle.

I’m glad I’m not a recovering gambling addict. (It would be the equivalent of the liquor store sending a recovering alcoholic a coupon for a free flask of vodka.)

Playing the crossword game cost $3, and it’s pretty simple: you get 18 letters to try and make words that have been pre-selected and placed in a crossword-like structure.

Absolutely nothing you do makes any difference to the game: there’s even a disclaimer that makes that point under the game, saying the result is preselected before you begin.

The fact that you turn over tokens to reveal letters only gives you the illusion of agency; you’re doing something, so you can fool yourself into believing that your actions can help you win.

Over my (albeit limited) game play, I quickly noticed how regularly the letters Q, W, X, J and Z come up, and how infrequently they actually appear in the words you need to fill in. Invariably, the only thing standing between you and the big prize you truly deserve is the lack of much more common (and absent) letters, like A, E, N or T.

The game moves remarkably quickly, separating you from your 20 promo bucks, and is disturbingly enticing. Combine that with the fact that it can be played anywhere you are with your phone or computer, and it’s easy to see why it could quickly cross the line from amusement to hardcore addiction.

The fact is, there isn’t any real chance involved. The lottery corporation designs its games to ensure that house always wins. If you happen to win a prize, all you’re really doing is taking a share of the money put in by other gamblers. The house never takes a fall, because the only random element is who gets that share, and who gets the shaft.

And the more you play, the better your odds of losing your money — because the game technology guarantees that there are always more losers than winners.

Programming ensures that Atlantic Lotto never winds up short.

Gamblers are, of course, responsible for their own behaviour.

But Atlantic Lotto is owned by the four Atlantic provinces, and you really have to wonder about the ethics involved, and whether this promo bucks lure constitutes encouraging responsible gambling.

Just think about that liquor store/recovering alcoholic analogy again.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

Recent Stories