[UPDATED] What other name could the city possibly give to the casino proposed by the councillor for Ward 17 – Davenport, if they choose to adopt it? Palacio’s proposal to study a casino is just one item on a busy agenda full of high-profile items, including off-leash areas for dogs, official plan amendments for the West Queen West Triangle, a new lawsuit against the city from Porter Airlines (how about that?) and of course the city’s proposed new land-transfer and vehicle-registration taxes. Palacio proposes the casino as a means of avoiding the new taxes. But there’s an odd similarity between the two proposals.
Preville Tax Theory 101: These days, broad-based new taxation measures — increased income tax or property tax, for example — are almost impossible to implement. For any government to pull it off, they pretty much have to scare people into it, such as when Premier Dalton McGuinty implemented the health-care premium on the grounds that the medical system would implode without it. The alternative to the manufactured-crisis strategy is to implement taxes for specific transactions, charged only to a small segment of the population that is willing to pay them — or, at the very least, is willing to turn a blind eye to them. (Sometimes you even have to manufacture a crisis just to implement a transaction-based tax, but that’s a post for tomorrow.)
In essence, both the proposed land-transfer tax and the casino are transaction-model taxes. In the case of the former: if you have decided to buy a home in this city, it means you are already committed to spending in excess of $350,000, which is probably money you don’t have anyway, and an additional 1% tax charge, while irritating, is something you’ll pay to get your dream home. In the case of the latter: once you’ve decided to spend a night at the tables, the thrill of gambling is so enveloping that you don’t really care who gets your money. (Besides, going in to the experience, you’re convinced you’ll be a winner.)
The difference, as has been proven time and again, is that casinos ruin lives and families. Governments that own casinos end up filling their coffers at the expense of numerous personal bankruptcies. There is also the issue of lost lives: as provincial coroners in Ontario, Quebec and elsewhere have warned, people kill themselves once they’ve gambled away their life savings. The land-transfer tax, for all its trumped-up ills, won’t have nearly the same detrimental effect.
Palacio’s motion is merely to study the possibility of a casino, and it may well pass no matter what happens to Miller’s tax proposals — but I hope it doesn’t. Gambling revenues are as addictive as gambling itself, and once the city takes its first baby steps down that path, there will be no going back.