Toronto casino: Caesars clashes with Public Health recommendations
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The city’s board of health doesn’t support expanded gambling in Toronto.
The board voted 9-1 in favour of Councillor Joe Mihevc’s motion that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation “should not be invited to expand gambling in the City of Toronto,” based on health risks associated with gambling described in a report drafted by medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown.
“This report leads to a very, very simple conclusion. And that is that we should not, as Torontonians, allow the expansion of gaming in our city. So we should say it. We should go on the record,” Mihevc said at the board’s meeting Monday.
McKeown’s report suggests a casino anywhere in the GTA could lead to a rise in problem gaming, but suggests 10 mitigating measures the city could negotiate, including prohibiting ATMs on the gambling floor, slowing down the speed of play on slot machines, mandating a daily loss maximum and providing no alcohol service on casino floors.
“I’ve heard people argue that there’s going to be a casino somewhere in the Greater Toronto area, and OLG has said that they feel there will be, then we might as well have it so we have the revenues as well as the problems,” McKeown said during the meeting.
“I’m not sure that I would be comfortable saying that if someone’s going to profit from the misery of problem gamblers, it might as well be us.”
Board member Kristle Calisto-Tavares was the only representative to vote against the motion.
“As a citizen, I feel like I don’t have enough information to say yes or no to a casino at this moment,” she said before the vote.
The Canadian Gaming Association said Monday the 10 measures in McKeown’s report are “without basis, misguided and perhaps counter-productive.”
A few hours before the vote, the chief executive of Caesars Entertainment urged Torontonians not to reject a casino because of social concerns, including addiction.
“In laissez-faire economies we tend not to restrict access to something that is consumed safely by the vast majority and restrict it because of its unsafe consumption by the very few,” Gary Loveman told an Economic Club of Canada luncheon.
He also contradicted McKeown’s conclusion that proximity to a casino can increase the rate of addiction.
“Most of you in this room who are not addicted to much of anything would never be likely to develop an addiction to gaming, whether or not a casino is in Toronto,” said Loveman, an economist by trade.
The argument that casinos prey on those least able to afford to gamble is a myth, Loveman said. “Casinos are luxury goods; they are not something anyone has to have, they are something that’s nice to have if you enjoy it,” he said. “Not surprisingly, those who enjoy it the most are the most able to afford it.”
While most in the crowd seemed receptive, casino skeptic Henry Lotin challenged Loveman’s upbeat economic projections and said a Toronto casino would cut into the First Nations’ share of Ontario gaming profits.
Caesars, the world’s biggest casino company with 52 facilities in seven countries, is among those vying for the right to add Toronto to its list. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. wants to build one new casino in the GTA.
Caesars has proposed its casino be part of a proposed $3 billion Metro Toronto Convention Centre redevelopment on Front St., but is open to other downtown locations, or a more modest casino elsewhere in the GTA.
OLG chair Paul Godfrey has given Toronto council until early 2013 to say if would welcome a casino, warning that, otherwise, the development could go to Mississauga, Markham or Vaughan. Council is expected to vote in March.
Loveman, however, said Caesars has no deadline. “If we were asked to wait, we’d wait.”
Meanwhile, the public health board also voted Monday to do more research on the health impacts of a casino. This time, McKeown could look at the impact a casino would have on factors such as crime rates and local economic development, both of which are broad public health issues, Mihevc said.
That report is to be presented to the board before city council makes its decision.