Newspaper Report on Sudbury and District Board of Health Report on Casino

The Sudbury and District Board of Health is sending a strong message to city council that the negative health impacts of establishing a casino in Sudbury would outweigh any benefits of such a gambling centre.

The board unanimously passed a motion Thursday asking council to "factor into their deliberations and decision- making" the deleterious health affects of casino expansion and gambling.

The biggest drawback would be problem gambling -- loss of control over gambling, preoccupation with gambling and money to gamble with, irrational thinking and gambling despite adverse consequences.

The board voted to forward a copy of a report called Health Impacts of Gambling Expansion in Greater Sudbury to council, to the province and to the Ontario Lottery Corporation.

The province has moved to modernize lottery and gaming in Ontario by doing away with slots at racetracks and shifting gaming operations to the private sector.

The report forwarded to council indicates 1.2% to 3.4% of Ontarians are problem gamblers. Moderate risk and problem gamblers make up 4.8% of Ontario's population, but generate 36-40% of gambling profits.

Certain groups are more at risk of gambling-related problems, among them youth, older adults, aboriginal people and those with low incomes.

And problem gambling increases with its availability and its proximity, according to the report.

Health board is urging council to "mitigate" the negative effects of a casino. Its location could have an effect on "vulnerable populations," for instance.

The report asks that operating hours also be looked at and that a casino not operate 24 hours a day.

Council should also look at supports and ser vices in mental health and addictions and how they will be impacted by a casino.

Greater Sudbury Council is considering four sites -- including downtown -- for a casino operation.

Council has been invited by the Ontario Lottery Corporation to prepare a "wish list" of facilities it would want built by any private-sector company looking to cash in on a casino, said Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis, chair of the board of health.

Possible benefits include a convention centre, a new arena and other facilities.

Problem gambling affects people's physical and mental health, is related to substance abuse and addiction, financial hardship, social isolation and relationship issues for those with the problem.

But it doesn't end there, the report indicates.

The board wants councillors -- four of whom sit on the Sudbury and District Health Board -- to understand problem gambling affects more than individuals, who may suffer physical and mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction, financial hardship and relationship issues.

It affects family and friends by breaking up families, and leading to domestic violence, poverty, stigma and social isolation.

Entire communities are affected because problem gamblers place a burden on social services, can cause alcohol-related traffic accidents and divert spending from other economic activities.

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health, said while health board didn't urge council to outright reject establishing a casino, it wants it to look at its downside.

"It will increase inequity because the people who are already more vulnerable ... tend more toward problem gambling," said Sutcliffe after Thursday's meeting.

"If you look at it purely from a health perspective, expanding gambling is not a good idea," she said.

Dupuis said Premier Kathleen Wynne is giving municipalities more responsibility over casinos.

But they may be overruled as to location by the OLG and an entrepreneur who wants to build one, he warned.

Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume said he believes "governments are addicted to this revenue, and that's what it's all about -- revenue."

Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac spoke out in support of the slots at Sudbury Downs saying the former Town of Rayside-Balfour opted to establish slots and boost the horsing industry decades ago.

Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett said he has no interest in a casino, except for the economic benefits such as a possible convention centre.

Sutcliffe said there's nothing wrong with people going out for an evening of gambling and spending "50 bucks ... but unfortunately, what tends to happen is people get drawn into it, and it's the problem gambling that has a huge, huge huge impact on people's lives."

She said she finds it concerning that the roles and responsibilities of municipalities and others in establishing casinos is unclear.

Dupuis said council will hear from economic development officer Ian Wood on Tuesday about the benefits a casino could result in for Sudbury.

carol.mulligan@sunmedia.ca

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Unanimously approved

"That the Sudbury and District Board of health forward the Health Impacts of Gambling Expansion in Greater Sudbury report to City of Greater Sudbury council and request that council factor into their deliberations and decision-making the anticipated health impacts of casino expansion and gambling."

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