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Remis group hears thoughtful analysis of war in Ukraine

Olexandr Shevchenko

By BERNIE BELLAN It’s always interesting to hear perspectives on a story that occupies much of our attention from an individual who has first hand knowledge of that particular story.
Such was the case on August 4 during one of the regular luncheon get-togethers of the Remis lecture group at the Gwen Secter Centre when the guest speaker was Olexandr Shevchenko, a historian and interpreter who comes from Ukraine himself.

Shevchenko is also a part-time lecturer at the University of Winnipeg, where he has taught courses on Russian history and European Power Politics.
While you’d have to be oblivious to world events not to be aware of what’s been happening in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, which began on February 24, listening to Shevchenko putting things into a very broad perspective certainly helped those who were at the luncheon gain a much deeper understanding of how events were set on a collision course long ago – and which ultimately led to Russia’s totally unjustified invasion of a neighbor country.

Shevchenko’s talk was titled “Can democracy defend itself?” By looking back at certain key events that are often overlooked when one is fixated on the day to day events of the war such as what atrocities have the Russians committed lately? he was able to help audience members obtain a better understanding how Vladimir Putin could come to think that he could invade Ukraine with few consequences.

A pivotal event – and one that is hardly ever mentioned in coverage of the Russian invasion, according to Shevchenko, was the war in Georgia in 2008, when Russian troops entered into the former Soviet republic of Georgia on the side of the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has occupied parts of Georgia ever since.
At the time though, much of the world’s attention had turned to the severe economic recession prompted by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in the United States and the ensuing deep dives that stock markets took around the world, leading to a prolonged economic crisis that lasted well into 2009.
It was also the year of the election of Barack Obama, Shevchenko noted. One of the first things Obama did when he was elected, Shevchenko observed, was call for a “reset” of relations with Russia. Shevchenko, I don’t think you’d be surprised to learn, was rather dismissive of President Obama.
Russia had already been laying the groundwork for an effort to restore its past dominance of Eastern Europe, but when its invasion of Georgia barely caused a ripple among the international community, the table was set for further aggressive behaviour, Shevchenko explained.
“Russia does not consider itself bound by the dissolution” of the Soviet Union in 1991,” he said. Thus, when it invaded the independent republic of Georgia in 2008, the lesson garnered from that, according to Shevchenko, was “anything goes.”

The next domino to fall in the cascading series of dominos that led up to this year’s invasion of Ukraine occurred in 2014, when a pro-Soviet president in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, resigned as a result of a series of protests by Ukrainians who were in favor of closer ties with the European Union. In February 2014 Russian troops occupied Crimea. Shortly thereafter pro-Russian separatist forces began fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lukansk, aided by Russian troops.
Rather than take aggressive action though, Shevchenko said that had the Russians done nothing, “Ukrainians would have squabbled among themselves,” thus leading to disunity. Instead the occupation of Crimea and the arming of separatists in the eastern provinces hardened Ukrainian nationalism.

In 2019 Vlodomyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine when he headed a party known as the “Servant of the People Party.” In Shevchenko’s opinion, the party was made up of “extreme dreamers.”
“In some respects, Ukrainians electing a former comedian might have sent the wrong message to the Russians,” Shevchenko observed.
While Zelensky was hardly taken seriously by other world leaders, viz. Donald Trump’s attempt to manipulate him into saying that Hunter Biden had been engaged in corrupt business activities in Ukraine, Ukrainian themselves were hardly united in opposing Russian attempts to influence the course of Ukrainian history at that point.

Shevchenko told this joke to illustrate his point:
“Question: What is one Ukrainian?
“Answer: “A fighter.
“Question: What are two Ukrainians?
“Answer: A fighting unit.
“Question: What are three Ukrainians?
“Answer: A fighting unit with one traitor in it.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was modeled after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Shevchenko observed. The notion was that it would be fairly easy to topple the Ukrainian government and replace pro-democracy officials with Russian acolytes.
Unfortunately for Putin, things didn’t turn out the way he envisioned, but the consequences of the Russian invasion are likely to be felt around the world for years to come, Shevchenko predicted.
“We’re quite likely to see a bunch of regional wars around the world,” as the foundations of the world order that were established after World War II come undone – and stronger states feel empowered to attack weaker ones, he suggested.

Returning to the title of his talk, Shevchenko asked: “If democracy is defeated in Ukraine, what message does it say to the rest of the world?”
The answer, he said, is “it’s best to seek accommodation with your neighbours.”
As far as world organizations are concerned, Shevchenko said, “the UN is a joke. One of its primary purposes is the prevention of aggressive wars.” It wasn’t very effective in stopping Russia’s invasion, was it?
Further, Shevchenko asked: “Can a democracy defend itself?”
The answer, he suggested, was that “if it starts acting on real problems” and concerns itself “with the security and well being of its citizens,” then it can defend itself. (As an aside though, I have to admit that Shevchenko’s example of a democracy digressing from concerning itself with real problems was the debate over whether Portage and Main should be open to pedestrians. I wonder whether he might have been able to find a better example.)

Continuing in the vein of opportunities that were missed earlier to send a strong message to Russia that aggression toward its neighbours would not be tolerated, Shevchenko observed that another missed opportunity came when Turkey applied to join the European Union (a process that has been ongoing for years).
“Acceptance of Turkey into the European Union could have sent a message to the Muslim world,” Shevchenko suggested, that a state can be both democratic and Muslim.

Answering questions from attendees at the luncheon, Shevchenko was asked how long he thought the current war will go on?
There may be a “window of opportunity” this fall, he answered. Certainly, if it drags on there will be another opportunity when the US holds mid-term elections in November, he added (without quite explaining why).

But what if Russia emerges victorious – or at least claims to have achieved victory? What then? Shevchenko was asked.
“Could we have a puppet Ukraine?” “Possibly,” was the answer. But, would that lead to a more “docile” Russia? he wondered.
“I seriously doubt it,” Shevchenko said, answering his own question. “Who’s next? Finland? Poland?”

There are three possible outcomes to the fighting, Shevchenko explained:
“One shot in the Kremlin could end it all.
“The defeat of Ukraine”
(Shevchenko did not describe a scenario in which Ukraine beats back the Russians.)

Finally, Shevchenko offered this novel observation about which country’s behaviour might affect the long-term outcome of the war in Ukraine the most: the United Kingdom.
“What worried me the most from the beginning were the actions of the U.K. government,” Shevchenko said (without explaining why he was focusing on the U.K. rather than say Germany, which seems to be far more vulnerable to Russian threats than other European countries).
“What will happen in the upcoming winter” (when gas supplies could very well run short throughout Europe)? Shevchenko asked.
“The population may say ‘Wrap it up. We can’t have it any more.’ “

Really though, that’s what Putin is counting on, isn’t he – that European unity will evaporate and support for Ukraine will diminish to the point where he will achieve at least some of his original goal of disassembling the Ukrainian state.
So much to ponder. Olexandr Shevchenko certainly gave his audience something to think about – at a time when discussion of the war in Ukraine doesn’t usually occupy typical lunchtime conversations, does it?

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A Jewish Perspective on the Hidden Gems of Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Nestled along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Nuevo Vallarta and its neighboring city, Puerto Vallarta, have become popular destinations for travelers seeking sun, sea and cultural experiences. For Jewish travelers, exploring these cities offers a unique blend of relaxation and discovery; from pristine beaches to vibrant local culture, here’s a perspective on the hidden gems these destinations offer.

Traveling to Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Barceló Puerto Vallarta: A Tranquil Haven

Among the myriad of accommodations in the region, the Barceló Occidental Nuevo Vallarta (with bookings at stands out as a serene retreat. Situated on Mismaloya Beach, this resort combines traditional Mexican architecture with modern amenities. Its all-inclusive packages cater to families, couples and solo travelers, providing an ideal base for exploring both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta.

Exploring Nuevo Vallarta

Embracing Nature at El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary, located a short drive from Nuevo Vallarta. This sanctuary not only preserves native wildlife but also offers educational tours that delve into the region’s ecosystem. For Jewish travelers, it provides an opportunity to connect with nature while appreciating Mexico’s biodiversity.

Cultural Insight at the Marina Vallarta

The Marina Vallarta, known for its upscale ambiance and waterfront dining, offers a glimpse into local life. Jewish travelers can explore boutique shops and art galleries while enjoying a variety of international cuisines. The marina’s lively atmosphere during sunset, with boats bobbing gently in the marina and street performers entertaining passersby, creates a memorable experience.

Discovering Puerto Vallarta

Historic Exploration in the Zona Romántica

Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romántica, also known as Old Vallarta, beckons history buffs and culture seekers. Cobblestone streets wind through quaint neighborhoods lined with colorful colonial architecture. Jewish travelers can visit the Zona Romántica’s eclectic art galleries, boutique cafes and the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Artistic Marvels at the Malecón

A stroll along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, reveals a treasure trove of sculptures and open-air art installations. From the whimsical Seahorse sculpture to the thought-provoking Millennium sculpture series, each artwork tells a story of Mexico’s artistic spirit. Jewish travelers can engage with local artists and appreciate the vibrant cultural tapestry that defines Puerto Vallarta.

Culinary Delights

Savoring Kosher-Friendly Cuisine

While kosher options are limited in Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta, some restaurants and resorts offer kosher-friendly menus upon request. The culinary scene in both cities blends traditional Mexican flavors with international influences, ensuring there is something to satisfy every palate. Jewish travelers can indulge in fresh seafood ceviche, traditional tacos al pastor and refreshing aguas frescas while soaking in the coastal ambiance.

Community Engagement

Connecting with Local Jewish Communities

For Jewish travelers interested in community engagement, both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta host small Jewish communities. Synagogues and Jewish community centers welcome visitors seeking spiritual connection and cultural exchange. Engaging with local Jewish communities provides a deeper understanding of Mexican-Jewish heritage and fosters meaningful connections across cultures.

Final Note

Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta offer Jewish travelers a blend of relaxation, cultural exploration and natural beauty. Whether basking in the sun on pristine beaches, exploring historic neighborhoods or savoring culinary delights, these cities provide a rich tapestry of experiences. With accommodations like the Barceló Puerto Vallarta offering comfort and convenience, travelers can immerse themselves in Mexico’s Pacific coast while appreciating its hidden gems from a unique perspective.

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Gambling Statistics Shine Light on Canadian Gambling Culture

Explore pivotal statistics that highlight Canada’s gambling culture. Get a concise overview of the trends shaping the nation’s betting landscape.

Canada’s gambling culture is as diverse as its landscape, and recent statistics shed light on this thriving sector. From coast to coast, Canadians engage in various forms of betting, each with its own set of trends and numbers. This article delves into the data, uncovering the patterns and preferences defining gambling nationwide.

Canadian Gambling Statistics

User penetration refers to the percentage of consumers engaging with a product or service beyond the expected audience. Despite a 47% decline in 2023, the online gambling industry is projected to expand.

By 2027, it’s forecasted that the gambling market will cater to 20.38 million individuals. This trend suggests an increasing preference among Canadians for online gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.

The industry boasted a 97% return on investment in 2022, outperforming land-based casinos, which only saw a 61% return. With the rising interest in online betting, Canada’s online casino industry is experiencing the highest user penetration rate.

What Is the Average Expenditure on Gambling by Canadians?

Many enjoy the thrill of the occasional game of chance. The fact that you can retain all of your earnings, as there are no taxes on gambling profits in Canada, adds to the allure of gambling. In Canada, winnings are subject to taxation only for professional gamblers with a sustained winning streak.

In recent years, the trend toward online casinos has changed. The pandemic-induced closures of land-based casinos accelerated this change. It’s a profitable industry, as 60% of Canadians say they spend money gambling each month.

Canadian gambling statistics:

  • Six out of ten Canadians have gambled.
  • The monthly average expenditure for gaming and gambling in Canada is $6.75.
  • A month’s worth of gaming expenses is reported by 63% of males and 57% of women.
  • According to 73% of Canadians, gambling-related issues have gotten worse in their region.

The Increasing Attraction to Online Casino Gambling in Canada

An increasing number of Canadians are using online casinos, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. They offer various benefits regular casinos do not and are more convenient. Over time, land-based casinos’ revenue has decreased due to the growing popularity of online gambling sites.

The pandemic shutdowns accelerated the drop. For instance, the land-based casinos in Alberta no longer make as much money as they once did. Consequently, the Albertan government opened an online casino, and other governments quickly adopted similar strategies.

Casino Games at Online Casinos in Canada

Online casinos in Canada offer various games that cater to different preferences. Some of the most popular casino games at Canadian online casinos include:

  • Slots: These are the most common and varied, with themes ranging from classic fruit machines to the latest online slot games with advanced graphics and features.
  • Table Games: Classics like blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat are available in multiple variations.
  • Live Dealer Games: These provide an immersive experience, allowing players to interact with real dealers and other players in real time.
  • Video Poker: A favourite for many, combining elements of slots and poker in a unique format.
  • Progressive Jackpots: Games that offer the chance to win life-changing sums of money with a single spin.
  • Canadian Legalities for Online Gambling Sites
  • Casinos are legal in Canada, but each province and territory has the authority to establish its gaming regulations and issue online gambling website licences. Saskatchewan is the only province that does not host multiple online gaming sites.
  • Authorities in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba issue licences without a specific requirement, but these online casinos must operate exclusively within their respective provincial borders. Online gaming sites seeking to operate beyond these borders need a special agreement.
  • In Canada, only land-based casinos face penalties; foreign operators can only function by obtaining local licenses. Although offshore casinos cannot legally target Canadian players, they can accept them.
  • Statistics on Gambling Addiction in Canada
  • While the majority of gamblers do so without experiencing issues, there are hazards and health issues associated with it for some people. Because of this, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) carries out studies and creates resources aimed at assisting Canadians in making wise decisions regarding their gambling, both generally and, in particular, high-risk scenarios, like when they’re using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Here are some key statistics on gambling addiction in Canada for the year 2024:
  • 64.5% of Canadians aged 15 or older actively participated in gambling activities within the past year.
  • 1.6% of Canadian gamblers, representing approximately 304,400 individuals, face moderate-to-severe gambling addiction risks.
  • Canadian males reported higher gambling participation and addiction risks compared to females.
  • Indigenous Canadians showed a higher tendency to gamble (72.4%) and experienced greater susceptibility to gambling problems (4.5%) than non-Indigenous people.
  • In Canada, responsible gambling is promoted through various programs and initiatives, ensuring that individuals engage in betting activities within their means and maintain control. The emphasis is on providing resources and support to prevent gambling addiction and encourage safe, enjoyable gaming experiences.
  • Reflecting on Canada’s Responsible Gambling Journey
  • The statistics we’ve explored offer a revealing glimpse into Canada’s gambling culture, highlighting both the widespread appeal and the responsible practices of Canadian bettors. As the industry evolves, it reflects the country’s commitment to balancing entertainment with economic benefit and social responsibility. The future of gambling in Canada seems poised to be driven by informed choices and a clear understanding of the risks and rewards involved.
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Caesars Windsor Reduces Operating Hours for Sports Betting Counter

Sports betting has rapidly evolved into a major attraction, drawing a diverse audience ranging from casual participants to dedicated enthusiasts, and its popularity is only increasing with the proliferation of online platforms. In particular, Canada has seen a notable rise in sports betting activities since the legalization of single-event sports betting in August 2021, which opened doors to a multitude of betting avenues, both in physical locations and online. 

The shift towards online sportsbooks has been especially significant, marking a notable change in the landscape of sports betting. Given the expansive range of online sportsbooks available to Canadians, experts like Neil Roarty provide critical reviews and comparisons that guide bettors through the complex array of online options. These sites delve into the nuances of each platform, evaluating everything from user interface and betting options to the perks and security features they offer (source:  

Despite the rising trend in online betting, traditional sportsbooks like those in casinos are adjusting to the new landscape. Caesars Windsor, for instance, has recently made significant changes to its sports betting services. Initially projected to increase job opportunities and enhance visitor footfall, thereby boosting various service-related positions within the casino, the reality has somewhat shifted. 

The casino’s CEO, Kevin Laforet, had expressed optimism at the sportsbook’s inauguration in January 2023, citing anticipated growth in employment opportunities due to expected higher traffic. This optimism was rooted in the broader economic benefits typically associated with casino expansions, such as increased employment for local and migrant communities including roles like dealers, bartenders, and security staff.

However, recent developments have seen Caesars Windsor recalibrating its approach to sports betting. According to a spokesperson from the casino, after a detailed review of betting trends at their facility, adjustments were necessary to align the sportsbook’s operations with actual guest preferences and patterns. 

As a result, the sportsbook has scaled back its operating hours to 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, which has led to minor staffing changes. Importantly, all affected staff members have been retained, and the sportsbook continues to operate during peak times, especially during significant sporting events, with kiosk betting available 24/7.

Jessica Welman, editor of the Canadian Gaming Business, remarks on the overwhelming preference for online sports gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The convenience of placing bets via a smartphone or computer is a significant draw for many, enhancing the accessibility and appeal of online betting. 

Welman further noted that the market for online betting in Ontario has expanded consistently each quarter since its legalization, highlighting a robust growth trajectory that underscores the market’s potential.

However, the relationship between online gambling and its impact on physical casino revenues is complex and not well-documented. Sports betting reporter Greg Warren pointed out that most casinos do not specifically track how much of their revenue comes from sports betting as opposed to other gambling activities, which muddles the ability to analyze precise trends. 

Yet, experiences from the United States suggest that both in-person and online sportsbooks can experience growth simultaneously, indicating a synergistic relationship rather than a competitive one. According to Warren, the distinct experiences offered by online platforms and physical sportsbooks mean they can coexist and cater to different preferences.

Welman supports this view, suggesting that despite the convenience of online options, there is an enduring appeal for the physical experience of in-person betting. She argues that brick-and-mortar casinos provide a unique atmosphere that can’t be replicated online, serving as a draw for those who prefer the tangible excitement of a live betting environment. 

In line with its diverse offerings, Caesars Entertainment also maintains an online gaming app, which complements its physical sportsbook operations. This app is designed to offer users a seamless integration between the convenience of digital betting and the engaging atmosphere of in-person wagering. 

While specific details on the app’s impact on the casino’s overall business were not disclosed, it represents an integral part of Caesars’ strategy to bridge the gap between traditional and digital gambling experiences. This dual approach not only caters to a broader range of consumer preferences but also positions Caesars to capitalize on the growing trend of mobile and online betting.

As the landscape of sports betting continues to evolve, the interaction between online and in-person gambling platforms will undoubtedly remain a key area of focus for industry observers and participants alike. By maintaining a strong presence in both arenas, Caesars is well-equipped to adapt to changing consumer habits and technological advancements that have seen real money online casinos cornering many gambling markets worldwide, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of the gambling industry. 

This strategic integration highlights the potential for more synchronized growth and innovation within the gambling sector, shaping the future of how sports betting is experienced across different platforms.

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