Addict Looks At Casinos

This was published May 2nd in the Whig Standard)

I wonder how many addicts there are in Kingston? Besides me.

An addiction is like a flea. It hops from one substance to another. There aren’t any sprays or collars or pills to fix it. Talk about an itch! Giving in makes it worse.

In 2010, the U.S. estimates 22.6 million of its population had some form of addiction. This rate is consistently rising. It is experiencing the highest levels of addiction than ever before in its history.

A few years ago, my husband and I had a stopover in Las Vegas on a flight to the West Coast. There was an air of anticipation, even excitement on the plane, which was almost entirely full of visitors to the casinos. The return trip was silent with liquor in high demand.

As we walked through the tunnel leading from the casinos, there was a well-dressed, middle-aged woman sitting right on the dusty floor of the hall with seats all around her. She had recently been to a hairstylist and wore designer heels, but now she sat, legs akimbo, staring at something no one else could see.

She might as well have had her pockets turned inside out or been wearing a barrel the way old cartoons pictured being stony broke. With her jaw dropped, she looked as though she’d been mugged.

That could have been me. I know what addiction feels like. But lately I also know how recovery works, the daily deal for which I can use all the help I can get. Fortunately, there is a lot of that in Kingston if you go looking. There are 12-step programs for financial difficulties, compulsive food behaviours, sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling in our area. Some addicts belong to several, simply due to the flea-like qualities of addiction.

I know a woman who frequents the Gananoque casino. To hear her talk, her winnings make it sound as though anybody can waltz in there and pick up a bonanza. But then the talk stopped and she told me she wasn’t going to go anymore. Yet she didn’t stop.

Not knowing what I know now, I didn’t realize she was unable to stop. Addiction is like learning to play the piano. It gets stronger with practice.

“While you are in a meeting,” one saying goes, “your disease is in the parking lot, doing pushups!”

At one time in my life, I joined a group of older women that wanted to change the way the government operated. Completely non-violent, our method was to lampoon what they were up to with satiric songs. This was just about the time the first pitch for a Kingston casino was being floated.

Many of us had touched some part of the addiction experience, though I cannot say anyone but me was a full-blown addict. We were working on songs, but it was hard to satirize the idea of building what amounted to a modern-day temple.

I grew up in the ‘60s era when the Chad Mitchell trio made riotous fun of the John Birch Society, who were anti-communist (otherwise known as “reds.”) “We’re after Rosie Cluney. We’ve gotten Pinky Lee. And the day we get Red Skelton, won’t that be a victory!” It ended with: “If Mommie is a commie, then you gotta turn her in!”

I wrote one to the tune of Mr. and Mrs. Sippi using the perspective of that Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, pointing out we had a choice between Jimmy Stewart’s vision of what community could be, or Hiram Potter’s. Which of course would include wide-open gambling.

About that time, Windsor, Ont., which had one of the first casinos, came out in print saying it wished it had never agreed, that it had hurt its economy and local businesses were closing because people only came to bet and leave.

So I did another to the tune of Mona Lisa: “A casino! A casino here in Kingston! We’ll be like Windsor now, all full of class … ” But none of the words made you laugh out loud. It was hard to write funny about such serious stuff.

I listened to a local entrepreneur express his frustration. He was trying to find a way to buy Fort Henry and put the casino there. “And I’d get rid of all that old stuff and make the place look real nice … ”

So close to election day, we put on our flowered hats and shawls and took the songs we had down to the market, where one of us spotted our MP. He had stopped graciously to shake hands, looking open to being serenaded.

“Let us sing you something,” one of us said as we came up. But then he spotted the rubber chicken with which I usually led the singing. I thought of it as an indication our music was to be taken lightly, though perhaps it actually looked just plain nuts.

At any rate, he turned away and we followed and he walked fast and we kept up the pace till it probably looked as though we were pursuing our MP through the market. It wasn’t the way to register our casino concerns. But unlike our approach to the minister of finance visiting Queen’s, whom I had poked in the stomach with the chicken in a moment of excitement, to emphasize a point, we stopped and let the MP escape without a song.

With the bloated corpse of Casino Fever staggering yet again from the swamps to infect our innocent populace, is there no inoculation available? It is time for a decent burial with a suitable headstone containing the words, “No, No, Never!” I speak for all the addicts I know when I say, “thank you.”

Rose DeShaw, a member of the Whig-Standard’s Community Editorial Board, is a retired bookseller with prison library experience, and is employed part time by our community credit union.


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