With freedom comes responsibility
- unless you're a gambler


Freedom is in high demand these days. Whether it's political, religious or personal freedom, everyone wants the right to do as they please.

Perhaps it's time we took note of the fact that, amidst all this fervour about democratic ideals, tolerance and identity, something else is happening .

Freedom isn't just what people fight for; it's also what we're strikingly inclined to throw away. The problem we have with freedom is that it gives us not only the liberty to think, believe and speak as we want, but also the opportunity to make choices-even bad ones that can wreck our lives. So, it's hardly surprising that among us now are many people who want to surrender their freedom in order to escape from the liability of their mistakes. "Liberty," as George Bernard Shaw put it, "means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." A case in point is Jean Brochu, a successful Quebec lawyer who began playing video-lottery terminals (VLT) in 1993. Over time, Brochu stole $50,000 from the law society, of which he was the treasurer, to feed his gambling habit. Eventually found out in 1999, he was given a conditional sentence that required him to repay the money, undergo therapy for pathological gambling, and which allowed him to regain his status as a lawyer.

Brochu is now trying to hold Loto-Quebec responsible for turning him into a pathological gambler by not warning him of the dangers of VLTs. Recently, he successfully sought permission to institute a class-action suit on behalf of the estimated 125,000 pathological gamblers in the province. He is seeking a return of the therapy cost and of wages lost, as well as money to cover the expenses incurred to preserve or recover employment; an amount that could exceed $625 million.

He would like the courts to believe that prior to playing on these VLTs, he and the others were healthy, that these machines made them ill, causing them to contract the disease of pathological gambling, and that it was this mental illness that took control of their actions.

Psychologists, prone these days to see everything untoward as signs of mental illness, consider Brochu's behaviour as indicative of a disease. According to their diagnostic manual, if one is preoccupied with gambling, gambles too much, steals to gamble and lies about gambling, then one has a pathological gambling disorder. It's a classic example of circular logic.

The gambler no more suffers from a gambling disease than does a serial murderer from pathological murdering or an unrepentant thief from pathological robbing. Calling it such only serves to provide a cover behind which to to hide and avoid accepting the consequences, admitting fault and striving for redemption.

But like a child who breaks the cookie jar, Brochu's saying that it wasn't his fault; he would have us believe that it was the cookie jar's (or in this case the VLT's) fault. According to him, Loto-Quebec was to blame for not acting like a parent and protecting him from the temptation of the VLT's. Who among us doesn't occasionally cling to that childish wish that if only time could be rolled back, our mistakes could be undone, and things could turn out differently? But those of an adult mind know that accidents can't be undone, that mistakes have to be lived with and that bad decisions can cost us dearly.

Personally, I abhor government-sanctioned gambling that, more often than not, takes money from poor people whose only hope for a better life is to win. I'd support the removal of VLTs from pubs and bars, the closing of casinos and the end of lotteries. But governments aren't likely to back off from this proven cash cow. I understand (and accept), along with every other person who can put two and two together, that gambling is about winning and losing. The "house" (or, in this instance, the government) wins and the
players, overall, lose. Some lose big time.

The psychological experts backing Brochu's lawsuit argued that VLT machines are designed specifically to exploit a natural tendency of the human spirit to perceive links of causality and to develop an impression of control. Of course they are. They want to give people the impression that they can win. Of course they do. We all know that; we hardly need warnings.

To demand that government protect us from our own mistakes is to surrender our freedom. As Robert Frost said: "I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way."


@ Dr.Tana Dineen

by Dr. Tana Dineen, special columnist,