VICTORIA -- With the latest Lottery Grants Report in my hot little hand, I thought this might be an opportune time to inform you where all those dollar bills and loonies went that you spent on scratch-and-win, 6/49 and Lotto B.C. tickets.
The total paid out during 1987 by the government's lottery branch, the neatest money maker this side of income tax, was about $229 million. Looking at the details of that expenditure, it is prudent to remember that the government-sponsored gambling
activity was originally started to raise money for cultural, sports and other community organizations.
With that in mind, it is, for instance, interesting to note that more than $176 million was used to pay off debts incurred by Expo 86, while aforementioned organizations had to do with the remaining $53 million.
A breakdown shows the following allocations from lottery funds during 1987: non-profit community groups -- $10.1 million; payments to Expo legacy projects -- $9.3 million; recreation and sports organizations -- $8.1 million; cultural groups -- $6.3 million; the B.C. Health Care Research Foundation -- 3.7 million; the B.C. Heritage Trust -- $1.4 million.
As a total, those figures sound impressive. After all, few of us deal in millions. The fact remains though that four times as many groups could have received help if it hadn't been for the government's decision to pay off Expo debts with lottery funds.
If, on the other hand, the government believes every deserving group is already on the list of lottery fund recipients, it could have increased funding for individual groups fourfold. I'm sure that idea would be welcomed by many a community, sports or cultural organization, because some of the government contributions are less than generous.
For example, the Knob Hill Community Club in Armstrong got $709 in lottery funds to help with a construction of a new roof for its club house. I happen to know that it's difficult to put a roof on a dog house for $709.
The Comox Valley Fastball League was able to snare $982 for a new fence around the ball field. And then there are the New Caledonia Dancers in Fort St. James who were the recipients of a whopping $264 to help buy ballet bars and mats. The smallest contribution was $28 to the Richmond Girls' Softball Association to help offset the cost of travelling to the provincial championships.
Those are admittedly some of the smallest payments I could find in the report. There are more substantial grants such as $40,000 to the Fort Fraser Volunteer Fire Department for new equipment or $225,000 to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District to establish a ski hill near Golden.
The largest amount went to the Village of Lillooet which received 500,000 (the final payment) for a recreation complex. Other large payments included $297,000 to the Chilliwack Community Arts Council, $200,000 to the Shuswap Community Centre Society in Salmon Arm and $200,000 to the Canadian Paraplegic Association in Vancouver.
While those figures may sound good, they don't alter the fact that perhaps other communities could have received help from the lottery funds to establish ski hills and arts centres or build club houses or fences, if it hadn't been for that $176 million payment for Expo debts.
There's lottery life after the Expo debt, you say. Since that debt has now been paid off, you may assume that the groups originally intended to benefit from lottery funds can expect to get more this year or that other groups which got nothing, will now be able to tap the lottery fund.
Not so. The government has already decided to reroute $79 million from this year's lottery profits into what is alternately called the Budget Stabilization Fund, the B.S. Fund or the Socred Slush Fund.
That fund, you will remember, was set up in the last budget to provide a cushion for the ups and downs of government revenues.
In good years, money from the fund is to be used to pay off the province's accumulated deficit, in bad years to avoid an annual deficit.
That creates a problem. Experts call gambling the most regressive of all taxes. The vast majority of lottery ticket buyers come from that segment of the population which can least afford to buy them. Lottery tickets represent their dream to sudden riches.
They're the only road to life on easy street. As long as lottery profits are used for the enrichment of community life, there may still some justification for taking gambling money out of the pockets of the poor. Enticing the less-privileged to pay off the accumulated provincial deficit is not so easy to justify.