Proposed casino ignites debate

City Council appeals to residents for input on bringing a casino to town

Students, especially those suffering from mental illness, are among those most at risk for gambling addiction, Frontenac Community Mental Health Addiction Services Centre director of Client Services says.
Students, especially those suffering from mental illness, are among those most at risk for gambling addiction, Frontenac Community Mental Health Addiction Services Centre director of Client Services says.
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A proposal to bring a new casino to Kingston has caused some residents to raise concerns over its effects on the city.

Proposals to bring a casino to Kingston came in May after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) devised a new five-year plan that would transfer casino ownership from OLG to private sector businesses.

The OLG plans to determine a location for a casino in the E3 gaming zone, which includes Kingston and nearby Gananoque; opening a casino in Kingston would therefore mean closing the existing one in Gananoque.

Mary Rita Holland, past NDP candidate for Kingston and the Islands, attended a public forum held by the City on Aug. 8 to discuss the issue. She said one of the main arguments presented by speakers against the new casino was its effect on target populations, specifically young and old people on fixed incomes.

“Considering the plight of these people generally, it’s a major problem knowing you’re attracting that demographic,” she said. “I’m not trying to be paternalistic and say people shouldn’t go gambling, but the city and OLG need to be aware of these issues and how these people will be affected.”

She also said she thinks a new casino could drain local economic resources without any return investment.

“If we get the casino, people from [Gananoque] will be unemployed and they will be entitled to get the jobs because they have the experience,” she said, referring to the nearby Gananoque casino.

Around 200 people showed up to the Aug. 8 forum. Of the 45 people who spoke, the majority argued against the construction, citing economic and moral reasons.

Despite the negative feedback, Mayor Mark Gerretsen said the public forum didn’t adequately represent public opinion and subsequently launched the online survey on the City of Kingston website, which ran from Aug. 14 until Wednesday.

“People told me they weren’t able to express their opinions [at the forum] because they were intimidated,” he said. “We attract only the extremes to come and voice their opinions.”

People have argued that a casino could be beneficial for the city, he said.

“The city stands to profit $4.5 million a year,” Gerretsen said. “If the city can profit we can use that money toward a number of different needs such as interest needs and other programs.”

The results of the online survey will be compiled into a report in late September and presented to OLG after Oct. 2. If City Council votes in favour of supporting a casino, OLG will look at proposals from private sector operators. If they vote against supporting a casino, OLG will cease looking at Kingston as an option.

“The bottom line is that we’re not going to entertain the options for a casino if the city isn’t interested,” Gerretsen said.

If the proposal passes at City Council, the private sector business that bids for ownership of the Thousand Islands Casino in Gananoque can choose to relocate to Kingston.

Tony Bitonti,OLG spokesperson, said casino profits have decreased considerably in the last 10 years because of a number of factors, including less American tourism and new smoking bylaws prohibiting indoor smoking.

He said transferring ownership to private sector business would allow greater modernization of facilities and profits for OLG, adding that an increase of $1 billion in government revenue for health and education would follow.

Marion Wright, director of Client Services at the Frontenac Community Mental Health and Addiction Services Centre, said a new casino could be detrimental to Queen’s students, especially those suffering from mental health issues.

“Oftentimes [young people] like to experiment,” she said. “If there’s a monetary reward to it or there’s some winning that’s involved and they seem to be more susceptible to have this be problematic for them.”

Studies conducted in 1996 and 2002 show that 77.5 per cent of those experiencing problems with gambling have been diagnosed with a mood disorder like depression, with a higher risk of suicide among teenagers with problem gambling issues.

“Because the student population is from out of town there are challenges around increased risk of suicide, as well as loneliness,” she said. “Having the casino be that accessible would only exacerbate these issues for students.”

Wright said she expects the Centre to see an increase of gambling addiction patients if the casino is to be built.

“The Centre simply doesn’t have enough resources to accommodate the demand as it is now.”

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