The city of Belleville, Ontario, is abuzz over its new $41-million Shorelines Casino Belleville, a 48,000 square-foot facility that represents the first new casino built in the province in more than a decade.
With more than 300 new casino staff hired, not to mention the city’s allocation of casino revenues which will soon be rolling in, the town is expecting to see a big economic boost from the new entertainment complex.
“It was very gratifying to walk through the casino and see a lot of familiar County faces,” said Prince Edward County mayor Robert Quaiff, who attended the casino’s opening ceremonies on January 11. “Faces of people who were employed there and I was quite surprised to see how many from the County are working there.”
Yet, four-and-a-half hours away in North Bay, the arrival of a new casino is being greeted differently, as a group of physicians led by the city’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jim Chirico, have expressed their reservations about the the city’s plans to open up a casino along the waterfront, saying the society-wide implications of problem gambling likely to accompany a new casino will need to be addressed.
In a presentation to City Council, Dr. Chirico said, “The provincial association of local public health agencies, led by Toronto Public Health, passed an imposing resolution calling for the province of Ontario to refrain from expanding gambling availability as a way to generate additional revenues. Obviously, that public health advice was ignored”.
This past month, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation chose Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited as the service provider for the North and Southwest Gaming Bundles, including the one proposed for North Bay, with City mayor Al McDonald stating that the casino is likely to generate between 150 and 200 well-paying jobs for North Bay.
But Dr. Chirco says the negative social impacts of casinos and problem gambling are well known.
“Problem gambling has adverse health impacts on individuals, families and communities: physical and mental health, ill health, fatigue, co-related substance use and addition, depression and suicide,” he told City Council. “These impacts occur along with alcohol related traffic incidents, financial difficulties, family breakdown, divorce and compromised child development that affects the health of families, friends, colleagues and communities.”
Casino gambling and the associated revenues are hard to resist, and the money involved is huge. According to the Atlantic Monthly, casino patrons in the United States bet more than (U.S.) $37-billion a year, which is more than they spend on attending sports events, going to the movies and buying music combined. And the revenue does not come from a wide swath of the population but is rather focused on the narrow group of individuals who are pathological and problem gamblers: reportedly, between one- and two-thirds of casino revenue stems from betting by this cohort alone.
An editorial in the British Journal of Medicine testified to the social impact of gambling, saying the personal costs such as addiction, depression, spousal violence and bankruptcy reverberate across all of society.
“Gambling is without doubt a health issue,” reads the editorial. “And an urgent need exists to increase awareness in the medical and health professions about gambling related problems and to develop effective strategies to prevent and treat problem gambling.”
Neither does the cost-benefit analysis seem to add up. Economics professor at Baylor University in Texas, Earl Grinols, author of Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, argues that for every dollar of benefit that a casino brings to a community, three dollars are used up in social costs related to associated problems like increased crime and unemployment.
“It’s a social negative,” Grinols told the Atlantic. “Casino gambling is bad for the economy. It should not be allowed by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
Back in North Bay, the city’s hands seemingly tied and preparing for the inevitable, the local board of health is calling on the City to establish a responsible and problem gambling program, funded by revenue expected from the new casino.