Selling six-packs, spirits and lottery tickets is a booming business in Quebec. Through the provincial-owned Loto-Québec and Société des alcools du Québec, the government made over $2 billion last year retailing these potentially addictive products.
It’s a common arrangement adopted by provinces across Canada, yet one that can raise some concerns. While official commissions help regulate drinking and betting, the province remains in a tricky position as it financially benefits from those struggling with unhealthy dependencies like alcoholism and pathological gambling.
So how does a society fight addiction when it’s making money off the afflicted?
Taking the gamble
Breaking down the numbers reveals a complicated situation. According to their 2013 annual reports, Loto- Québec paid the province nearly $1.2 billion in dividends while the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) chipped in $1.03 billion. Their combined contribution adds up to roughly 2.5 per cent of the Government of Quebec’s total revenue, a substantial source of income. A small portion of this money is directed towards philanthropic efforts — Loto-Québec, for example, spent $22 million from its $3.6 billion revenue to finance gambling-addiction prevention programs, treatment services and awareness campaigns.
Meanwhile, Sylvia Kairouz is crunching a different set of numbers. As Concordia’s Research Chair on Gambling and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Kairouz oversees research geared towards better understanding the factors that put people at risk for problems associated with betting. “Gambling is a popular activity in Quebec,” she says. “Almost 70 per cent of people gamble in this province, mainly on lottery tickets. In a sense, gambling is predominantly a leisure activity and a popular pastime. However, a minority of gamblers will develop problems related to their gambling habits. Point-six per cent are probably pathological gamblers — people who are really encountering serious problems with their gambling behaviours — and 1.2 per cent of people are at risk and might be in a zone where they need to be careful.”
Although these numbers may not seem huge, Kairouz warns that addiction affects more than just the individual. An addict’s actions may have signifcant consequences for his or her family and friends, broadening the scope of the problem well beyond what surveys and studies have been able to gather.