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