An ex­pan­sion of Wood­bine’s gam­ing op­er­a­tions into a casino is back on the ta­ble, but is T.O. ready?

Thornhill Post - - Faceoff -

There is an old say­ing: “If it is too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is.” Un­for­tu­nately, some T.O. politi­cians are so mes­mer­ized by the glitzy lights of casi­nos that they don’t care to see the truth. Casi­nos take money out of the lo­cal econ­omy and put it into the hands of a few. Stud­ies show the cost of casi­nos to so­cial in­fra­struc­ture — from in­creased ad­dic­tion rates, bank­ruptcy, fam­ily break­down, crime and the can­ni­bal­iza­tion of in­come gen­er­ated from lo­cal busi­nesses — costs lo­cal gov­ern­ments more money than we gain.

The Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health (CAMH) es­ti­mates that 30 to 40 per cent of the rev­enue from casi­nos comes from those fac­ing gam­bling ad­dic­tion. That means a third of casino rev­enue comes from peo­ple will­ing to risk it all. For gov­ern­ment to prey on them is not lead­er­ship. It is ex­ploita­tion. Casino op­er­a­tors will make prom­ises. They will talk about jobs — will they ma­te­ri­al­ize? Jobs are be­ing cut in the casi­nos in Wind­sor and Niagara. And it is the casino work­ers that are most at risk of de­vel­op­ing a gam­bling ad­dic­tion.

Ta­bles and slot ma­chines are the most ad­dic­tive forms of gam­bling — ex­actly the ex­pan­sion be­ing pro­posed at Wood­bine. CAMH and the Toronto med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health have both said the risk of ad­dic­tion in­creases for those that live clos­est to a casino, mak­ing ex­panded gam­ing at Wood­bine a lousy bet for Rex­dale and North Eto­bi­coke.

We can do bet­ter than ex­pand­ing casi­nos. We should imag­ine a city where rev­enue and jobs come from pros­per­ity, not from a pol­icy to ex­ploit gam­bling ad­dic­tions. Do we want to be re­branded as a casino des­ti­na­tion? We can come up with far bet­ter ideas that will bring bet­ter, per­ma­nent jobs to our city. We can find so­lu­tions that do not hinge on the ad­dic­tions of our res­i­dents. It’s time gov­ern­ments stopped the chase. What is be­ing asked of coun­cil is to re­visit their de­ci­sion to pro­hibit in­creases to the gam­ing that is cur­rently of­fered at Wood­bine. If they vote the way we want them to, they will re­move that re­stric­tion and then ask de­vel­op­ers to come for­ward with their pro­pos­als as to what they would like to do on the site in con­junc­tion with Wood­bine En­ter­tain­ment Group.

We don’t know what the en­tire pro­posal will be, but the com­po­nents I am putting for­ward are those that would likely be part of an in­te­grated en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, as there cur­rently isn’t one in the GTA. I spec­u­late that the en­hanced devel­op­ment on the site would in­clude a more at­trac­tive fa­cil­ity that will in­clude food and bev­er­age, re­tail space, a ho­tel with a spa, meet­ing and con­ven­tion space, as well as el­e­ments of the gam­ing it­self. The gam­ing com­po­nent would take up 10 per cent or less of the en­tire foot­print of the devel­op­ment.

It will cre­ate tourism, eco­nomic devel­op­ment and per­ma­nent jobs in all as­pects of the devel­op­ment that could equal up to 12,000 jobs. I think if peo­ple are morally op­posed to gam­ing, that’s their right. But what’s not right is peo­ple who present fab­ri­ca­tions and ur­ban myths rather than valid ar­gu­ments against gam­ing.

The de­bate that oc­curred in Toronto last time was peo­ple rais­ing the is­sue of crime, and the chief of po­lice and the deputy that was re­spon­si­ble for the Eto­bi­coke area that in­cludes the race­tracks said that there are no is­sues that they’ve seen with re­spect to crime.

With re­spect to prob­lem gam­bling, yes, prob­lem gam­bling is a very, very se­ri­ous is­sue for a very small num­ber of peo­ple. Prob­lem gam­bling rates have sta­bi­lized across Canada and around the world over the last 20 years at ap­prox­i­mately one per cent of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion re­gard­less of the sup­ply of legal forms of gam­bling, in­clud­ing casi­nos.

“A third of casino rev­enue comes from peo­ple will­ing to risk it all.”

Last time gam­bling was de­bated there was much public out­cry — from both sides

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