It’s Groundhog Day all over again! In May 2013 Council had a very vigorous and public debate over whether to host a casino either downtown or at Woodbine Racetrack. Council very wisely then decided that neither location would serve the interests of building a better Toronto. This was an incredible success story for the organizers of the No Casino Toronto campaign and for the grassroots communities who bonded together in opposition, including faith communities from across the city and concerned citizen groups.
Now we are at it again. This week the plan to expand gaming at Woodbine Racetrack has gone through the Executive Committee and will be forwarded to City Council on July 7th.
Executive Committee voted in support of the expansion of the Woodbine Racetrack facility into a full-scale casino. This expanded facility could include up to 5,000 slot machines and up to 2,400 live table gaming positions.
As Chair of the Board of Health, I oppose expanded gambling in Toronto. In 2013, the Medical Officer of Health and the Board of Health submitted a report to Council recommending that City Council oppose the decision to build or expand casino facilities. This opposition was renewed at the June 1st, 2015 Board of Health meeting with an updated report on the health impacts of expanded gaming at Woodbine.
The vote now on the table for City Council this coming week is similar to the vote held in May 2013. The expansion of the Woodbine Racetrack would have the same detrimental impacts for the surrounding community in Rexdale. Such impacts cannot be ignored, despite this being an existing facility. The revenue and jobs for the City that have been touted are unlikely to support the community in a stable and beneficial way, especially when the revenue will not be geared to provide local economic development. Economic analyses note that casinos are job losers because the purchasing power of local residents is diminished by virtue of less disposable income. Other businesses lose economic activity when hundreds of millions of dollars are being sucked out of the local economy by a casino. The economic pie does not increase; it simply takes money from one group and transfers it to the casino operator and provincial government coffers.
Further, as with all casino development, we will see a rise in problem gambling in Toronto. The greatest impact will be on vulnerable and low income populations. The physical and mental health impacts of which include depression, stress, possible alcohol abuse, and the decline of family and social relationships. It is worthy to note that the largest percentage of revenue for casinos comes from people who have a severe or moderate gambling addiction problem.
The casino industry is not an industry that develops local communities. You can probably picture places like Niagara Falls, Windsor, and Orillia where casinos are surrounded by big box retailers and cash advance stores. We need to learn from other jurisdictions. We need to recognize that money that comes into casinos does not stay in the hands of the local community.
Many of you reached out to me in 2013 when this debate was last on the table. I would love to hear from you again. Please let me know what you think and let other Councillors and the Mayor (firstname.lastname@example.org) know how you feel about a full-scale casino being created within this City. It feels silly to have this debate again so soon but now we must act fast to renew our commitment to a casino-free Toronto!
On Thursday May 21 Councillor Joe Cressy and I hosted a public meeting to discuss the Gardiner East. We heard from experts Michael Kirkland and Paul Bedford and had a lively question and answer period. Here you will find a very detailed blog post recounting the details of the meeting, including slides from the presenters, and capturing the online response and live-tweeting of the event. If you read to the very end you will also find links to the most recent developments on this issue.