“The hotel knew or ought to have known that the operation of a casino brings an increased risk caused by the predictable presence of criminality and gang memebers who frequent casinos,”  (Abbotsford News – August 29, 2013)

What a remarkable statement from a young woman paralyzed by inter-gang warfare. Leah Hadden-Watts will pay a terrible price for hanging around with hard-core criminals.  But Leah and her lawyer have spoken the truth in their lawsuit against the Delta Grand Okanagan Hotel.  The evidence has piled up for years that casinos are a magnet for organized crime.

A few years ago Art Villa lobbied Abbotsford City Council to ‘upgrade’ his bingo hall to a casino.  His proposal was warmly embraced by most of our council.  Oh, there was the formality of a public hearing.  A few of us duked it out till one o’clock in the morning, but that decision had clearly been made already.  Mr. Villa brought in at least two large, fancy busses full of “YES” button wearing folk, many of them from out of town.  The City allowed the pro-casino folk in ahead of the general public.  They were given the foyer to feed their folk, and pro-casino hostesses met the public who were kept waiting at the locked doors until Mr. Villa’s people were ready.  These slick professionals worked the aisles, giving out the big, ‘YES’ buttons and propaganda.  Well orchestrated, smooth.

Somehow I felt at the time that this crossed a line for a public hearing, and I still do wonder why the tracks were so well greased for Mr. Villa and his Chances casino.

In subsequent months we heard some severe doubts and even regret from some of the members of service clubs in town. They had worked relentlessly for bingo to be replaced by one-armed bandits.   They’d been showered with glittering promises of ever greater grants, but for some groups the glitter turned to sawdust.  It seems that casinos don’t always hand over the generous cuts to government, because well…….the profits were down, for this or that reason.

Amazing how non-profit groups that genuinely care about kids, special needs, the aged, the poor, will silence their conscience as to where gaming grants come from. These selfless volunteers deny the enormous hurt and harm that gambling addictions often bring into the very homes those high-minded folk seek to help.

We need a lot more moral courage in government.  The heady spending of public funds depletes the treasury and leaders become addicted to gambling revenue as a quick fix to the financial mess they’ve created.  Would that Leah Hadden-Watts tragic paralysis can help make some of our leaders rethink their addictions, and decide that towns and cities need peace and safety more than they need the unhealthy presence of casino gambling.

Clean living and lofty standards above money-grubbing gambling revenue will make any place a better hometown.