As hard as it is to believe, they have finally found someone to run Ontario’s gambling corporation who is himself a gambler. Profound congratulations to Paul Godfrey. Taking over Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) must have been one of Paul’s life-long ambitions. He is not only the first non-bureaucrat in the position but he is definitely the first conservative to hold the post for a Liberal government, as well as the first person in the role who understands gamblers. He is one himself.
Knowing Paul as a gambler was knowledge picked up at a formal dinner at a downtown Toronto hotel in the mid 1970s. We were in the reception for the head table and I was enjoying a drink and a conversation with a provincial cabinet minister on the subject of casinos for Ontario. Paul overheard what we were saying and he joined us and said we were talking about one of his favourite subjects. He admitted that he had very recently returned from one of those all-expenses-paid trips to Las Vegas where you guarantee the people arranging it that you will gamble at least so many dollars.
At the time, Paul was the Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto. With a wink to the cabinet minister (a Conservative, I should add), I asked Paul why we do not have a casino in Toronto to save him the bother of having to fly all the way to Las Vegas just to gamble. “Oh, we couldn’t have that,” was the reply. “The people in Toronto don’t need that type of temptation.”
That is the worst kind of paternalism from politicians. It was also his obvious reply. It reminded you of the Toronto where the swings in the parks were padlocked on Sundays to keep the children from temptation and there was only one cocktail lounge and you had to fill out an order form in the liquor stores. Times can change but not politicians. Temptation is alright for you and me but not for the ‘little people.’
But now Paul will have his comeuppance. In taking over the OLG, he thinks he will be the all-powerful tsar of gambling in Ontario. He is either in for a surprise or else one hell of a power struggle. The people who really run gambling in Ontario are the bureaucrats at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) which comes under the Ministry of Consumer Services. Paul will be reporting to the more powerful Minister of Finance but the people at AGCO can hold their own kangaroo courts to fine transgressors in the various gambling sectors. They can also change the rules on a whim to delay and confuse the gambling processes, and they do. Paul might be able to order a new color of paint for the walls in the poker rooms at the casinos but the bureaucrats at AGCO can order the dealers to jump up and run around the table three times before each deal.
This system of managing the casinos might offer some small amount of assurance that nobody is stealing but it does tend to confuse the operators and the gamblers. It is sometimes difficult for them to determine what rules are in force this week.
The problem is the respective mandates of the OLG and the AGCO. To Paul’s chagrin, OLG is responsible to the government of the day for the management of the gambling businesses in the province while the AGCO has the paternalist mandate to “ensure that casino and charitable gaming is conducted in a manner that is socially responsible, and in the public interest.” I kid you not!
Lotsa luck, Paul!
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