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
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
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."