Proposed large casino in Toronto

In the last while, the issue of a possible large-scale permanent casino in Toronto or the GTA area has been vigorously debated. On the week of May 19 Toronto City Council will address this issue.

Each person should make up his or her own mind about such a new facility in Toronto. However, changes in Ontario’s legislation means that a referendum of voters is not required; only members of Toronto City Council can vote on the current proposal for expanded gambling in Toronto.

It is interesting that Prince George County, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. has also been considering a proposal for a large casino. The casino promoters in Prince George have been suggesting many new tourists for Price George, including “international high rollers” coming to gamble, as a justification for a casino in that community.

In Toronto, the possibility of increased tourism (in competition with 1,500 other casinos in North America) needs to be considered against a number of issues, including:

  • Diversion of consumer spending from other areas of the economy and possible job losses in other areas of the GTA’s economy;
  • The effect of a casino on Toronto’s existing “brand” and quality of life for its residents as a leading cultural, sports and tourist centre (with the Toronto International Film Festival, live concerts and theatre, professional sports, multicultural dining out and clubs for emerging musicians, comedians and much more);
  • The devastatingly negative impact of gambling on those who are susceptible to an impulse control disorder that psychologists identify as “Pathological Gambling”, being “a persistent and recurring maladaptive gambling behaviour”. The accounting firm of Ernst & Young reported to the City that that “severe problem gambling directly affects upwards of 11,000 people aged 18+ (0.2%)in the GTA” However, psychologists have determined that about 2.5% of the population, once significantly exposed to gambling, do become gambling addicted. In a city of 2.5 million and about 600,000 households, that means potentially more than 60,000 households (or 10% of Toronto families) with a gambling-addicted member.

With respect to the impact of gambling, faith leaders in Toronto are very concerned by the devastating impact of the further expanding gambling options.

In that context, the following comments by faith leaders may be worth considering:

Imam Habeeb Alli, a friend of the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group and Secretary for the Canadian Council of Imams

“Is this an ethical, green and socially responsible investment?”

“We the faith leaders will have to pick up the pieces, and to give faith, to give trust and to give support to these broken families”

Archbishop Cardinal Collins, Roman Catholic Diocese of Toronto

“Gambling is inherently based on illusion – on promoting the fantasy, particularly attractive to the most vulnerable and the most desperate, that it is an easy way to provide a quick solution to the financial problems that they face. That is a cruel illusion, and it is not wholesome for governments to promote it, especially through extensive advertising.”

“It is sometimes said that should anyone become addicted, gambling’s proceeds can be used to treat their addiction. Apart from the fact that this is rather dubious logic, as it makes more sense not to cause the problem in the first place, problem gambling is a serious public health concern. There is evidence that a significant amount of revenue is derived from people who are most vulnerable to gambling.”

Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Beth Tzedec Congregation and on behalf of the Toronto Board of Rabbis

“We are beginning to speak because . . . we don’t want to be wallflowers, we don’t want to be wallpaper for political leaders.”

“We’ve seen the train wrecks (from gambling addiction). We pick up the injured parties. The question is, how does a large-scale operation increase the possibility of severely addictive behaviour?”

Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes of Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

“Apart from whatever revenues it produces there will be a lot of losses and many losers. A casino puts many people at risk and even though children aren’t allowed into the casino, they are often the ones paying the greatest price. When people’s lives fall to pieces there is undoubtedly a great social cost that draws on the resources of both the social welfare and health care systems. It can wreak havoc in both the home and the workplace.”

“The idea of placing the casino downtown is also a concern because there are many people with access to great sums of money who may find the temptation to ‘borrow’ from their employer for a few hours too great to turn away with a casino so close and we know what a few hours will deliver.”

“So it seems to me that when there is a casino it may well produce great revenues but it may be at the expense of other nearby shops, hotels and restaurants. If the casino is a magnet for money it is probably taking it away from some hard-working business person down the street. Even the jobs it creates may cause job losses down the road or across town.”

Bishop Philip Poole of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto

“Gambling amounts to a tax on the poor, attracting those who can least afford it. Gambling offers the illusion of getting something for nothing.”

“As faith leaders, we develop personal relationships with our members which allow us to look into their lives in a deep way. Our members share with us the pain, anxiety and anger gambling brings, and we are there to help them pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.”

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Our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, wrote that Canada should be a nation of “peace, order and good government”. The recent decision by Toronto City Council to meet, debate and vote on the proposed casino underlines how “good government” is operative in Toronto.