No Dice for Casino, Says Ottawa Board of Health Report

By Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
August 14, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013

An Ottawa Board of Health report from the city’s medical officer does not support opening a new gaming entertainment centre in Ottawa based on the potential for increased “problems with gambling.”

The report detailed the consequences of problem gambling, including over-spending, borrowing money or selling something to raise funds for gambling, not being in control of the desire to gamble, conflicts at home, or disruption to one’s job. 

It also said problem gambling can lead to thoughts of suicide both for gamblers and their children.

When city council voted in favour of allowing a gaming entertainment centre in Ottawa last October, it recommended that Ottawa Public Health (OPH) assess the potential health impacts to Ottawa and area residents. 

The resulting report released Aug. 12 advised against increasing gambling facilities of any kind.

“Increasing the availability and accessibility of gambling in Ottawa, including new casinos, slot machines, and table games, will likely result in an increase in the prevalence of problems with gambling among Ottawa residents,” the report stated. 

“Gambling opportunities already exist in many forms in Ottawa, both online and in casinos. But electronic gaming machines, such as slot machines, and casino table games are more likely to be associated with gambling problems.”

Rideau-Carleton Raceway and Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, both open 24/7, have created approximately 2,035 people in Ottawa who “have experienced negative consequences of gambling,” noted the report. Among them, only 280 seek treatment each year.

Citing provincial data, the report indicated that approximately 42 percent of problem gamblers seeking treatment are spending non-salaried income, such as unemployment, pension, or disability income. 

In response to the report, Councillor Peter Clark (Rideau-Rockliffe) reiterated his opposition to the casino. “I believe that the report covers ground already covered. My opinion has not changed … we do not need the casino.”

However, Councillor Bob Monette (Orleans) feels the casino would be a plus for Ottawa. 

“Currently, residents of Ottawa are going to the Lac-Leamy Casino and by having a casino in Ottawa, we would simply ensure that this money is reinvested in our city and our province. The OLG runs an excellent program for gambling addictions and this could be expanded should the need increase.”

Far-reaching Effects

The report also indicated that social impacts related to increasing availability of gambling are far-reaching. 

“There is international evidence to support that the number of people presenting for problem gambling treatment and the number of bankruptcies both rise following the opening of a casino,” stated the OBH report.

Current prevention and outreach programs in Ottawa aimed at addressing problem gambling are inadequate, the report added, as is current funding for education and treatment of gambling-related problems.

OPH’s report noted that research and talks from other agencies revealed that current efforts to prevent and treat problem gambling had “several significant gaps.” The report called for those to be addressed to prevent “current and future gambling-related harm.”

The report also outlined ways to improve treatment services in Ottawa and the roles and responsibilities of Ottawa Public Health, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) in health promotion, health care delivery, and funding of such programs.

Whether a casino is opened in Ottawa or not, the report recommended that the OLG put restrictions in place, such as not being open 24/7 and setting daily loss thresholds to protect clients, to correct current gaps detailed in the report, and to align with province-wide good practice.

While OBH doesn’t directly call on Mayor Jim Watson to do so, the report asked that the mayor be given the opportunity to cosign a letter to OLG and the Ontario Minister of Finance requesting an increase in annual funding for gambling treatment services in Ottawa to $2.0 million. Funding is currently at $741,000, which is unchanged since 2007.

The city’s finance and economic development committee will meet on Aug. 26 to discuss the report and the mayor’s request to OLG for two zones, that would allow Ottawa to have Rideau-Carleton Raceway slots plus another gaming facility.

Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan