By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
As about 30 people opposed to a casino held up black signs with a red ‘No’ prominently displayed at Hamilton city hall, politicians asked for more information from staff about the health impacts and economic benefits of locating a gaming facility in the downtown area.
“The (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission) is no better than a crack dealer,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, to a chorus of applause. “I’m opposed to this issue. The human aspect of addiction hasn’t been part of (the discussion.)”
According to a public health report on the health and social impacts of gambling, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, chief medial officer of health for the city, said people living near a casino are impacted more from a gaming facility. She also said that most of the people who go to a casino live within the area the facility is located in.
But she cautioned politicians during a gaming facility proposal subcommittee about making a direct correlation between casinos, and the health impacts on the local population, characterizing it as a “complex analysis.”
It’s estimated about 1 per cent of Hamiltonians, just over 5,000 people older than 12 years, have a moderate to high-risk problem gambling issue. And just over 90,000 Hamiltonians indicate they spent more money than they wanted to at a gaming facility.
According to the study, people with problem gambling are more likely to experience higher incidences of depression, anxiety and personality disorders. Richardson said there appears to be a relation between casinos and an increased level of suicides. However, there is no complete data to confirm that information.
The report proved to some councillors and residents, though, that gaming facilities are detrimental to the community.
“Casinos are only targeting their own residents,” said Merulla. “Proximity does matter.”
City staff also distributed a map that identified downtown locations where the zoning would allow for a casino, if it was part of a larger hotel or entertainment development. General manager of planning, Tim McCabe, pointed out a casino could be located on the waterfront, but the area isn’t zoned for a hotel. He said the city would refuse to allow a stand-alone casino.
“We are not on as staff for a free-standing casino,” said McCabe. “It has to be part of a mixed-use development,” he said.
Areas that would allow for a casino include a large block around Jackson Square, York Boulevard and along King Street, areas where there are large pockets of poverty.
Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge, who confirmed her support for a casino only to be located at Flamboro Downs, said while the health research on gambling is wide-ranging, she lamented the lack of local information on how the Flamboro Downs gaming facility has impacted the surrounding population.
The subcommittee asked city staff to study the issue further, including track local problem gamblers and provide an economic benefit analysis for having a casino. The recommendation will be reviewed by the general issues committee.
“We do need to have a respectful debate (so) we need the pros and cons,” said Merulla.
Councillors continue to maintain their position, endorsed multiply times, that they back a casino, but only at Flamboro Downs.
“It is imperative we keep Flamboro Downs open,” said Flamborough councillor Robert Pasuta, whose ward is home to the slots. “It provides good jobs. It’s a vital part of our community there.”
Hamilton receives about $4.4 million in slot revenues from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation for hosting the facility.
City staff said OLG and Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, the owners of Flamboro Downs, are continuing lease negotiations to locate a gaming facility at the Flamborough site. The OLG has delayed announcing a possible casino site until the city decides if it wants one in the downtown area until March 1, 2013.
Meanwhile, the first of two public meetings on casinos will be held Jan. 16 at Waterdown District High School. Partridge said city staff is finalizing the people who will be part of a panel discussion at the event.
“It should have some good wholesome discussion,” she said.
City officials are also finalizing the date, and location for another public meeting in the downtown area.