Feb 21, 2013- 6:27 PM
Council asked to consider issue
“I think the City of Greater Sudbury has already stated that it's supportive of expanding gambling, casinos, and looking at different venues,” the Sudbury and district medical officer of health said.
“Now is the time to pause and think about what else might be put on their wish list that would be supportive of health and that would reduce the risk of problem gambling and any other health impacts from problem gambling.”
The Sudbury and District Board of Health passed a motion at its Feb. 21 meeting asking that a health unit report on the health impacts of gambling expansion on the city be forwarded to Greater Sudbury city council.
It also asks councillors to take the report into consideration during deliberations on the matter.
The board's decision is timely, as a motion by Mayor Marianne Matichuk about what add-ons council should request from a casino developer, such as an arena or convention centre, will be discussed at the next city council meeting.
According to a recent information from Toronto Public Health, problem gambling is estimated to affect between 1.2 and 3.4 per cent of Ontarians, Sutcliffe told those at the meeting.
It can affect physical and mental health, and cause other types of addiction, financial hardship, social isolation and relationship issues.
As well, moderate risk and problem gamblers comprise 4.8 per cent of the population, but generate 36 per cent of the gambling profits.
The information from Toronto Public Health stated problem gambling also tends to increase with availability and proximity to a gambling venue, and certain groups, including youth, older adults, Aboriginals and individuals with low incomes are disproportionately affected.
At the same time, there's very little known about successful treatment of problem gambling.
Sutcliffe said there are ways to mitigate these impacts. For example, if a casino were located less centrally, people would have a harder time accessing it.
As well, the casino itself could reduce its operating hours, restrict the number of electronic gaming machines, make sure ATMs are not readily accessible and prevent patrons from drinking while they're gambling, she said.
Counselling services for those who might have a problem gambling issue will also have to become more accessible, Sutcliffe said.
“What we've seen in other areas (with gambling expansion) is there is an increase in problem gambling,” she said. “So if it needs to be done, it needs to be done right. It needs to be done in a way that is most protective to our health.”
Four Greater Sudbury city councillors — Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis, Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume, Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac and Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett — actually sit on the Sudbury and District Board of Health, with Dupuis serving as its chair.
Dupuis told the board Ontario's new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has been saying recently that municipal governments will be able to make a recommendation on the siting of new casinos.
However, the ultimate decision will still be made by the casino developer selected by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to develop a casino a particular community, he said.
Board member Ursula Sauvé said she's happy the province has decided to give municipalities “a little bit more decision-making power.”
There are four potential casino locations in Greater Sudbury currently being considered — in the downtown core, the South End, on The Kingsway and at Sudbury Downs in Chelmsford, where there are already slot machines.
If the casino were located at Sudbury Downs, it would mitigate problem gambling issues, Dutrisac said.
“Right now, if you want to go to a casino, you have to get into a car and go,” she said. “If (the casino is) parked right downtown, you're going to have a lot of people walking.”
Kett said he personally has no interest in going to a casino, but councillors have to consider what such a facility could bring to the city, such as a hockey rink or convention centre.
Berthiaume said he understands the impacts of problem gambling, as he's had relatives who have “lost their shirt” because of the issue.
“The tendency is to hide their gambling,” he said. “I know that they would pretend to go to work, and if they're not at work, they're gambling at the slots. Their partner doesn't know about that.”
He said councillors have to take into consideration not only the positive things a casino could bring to the city, but also “the health aspect of it.”