WASAGA BEACH – The question of public support for a casino in the area was boiled down to a question of morals Tuesday night.
The proposed casino’s cash infusion to local municipalities was weighed against the social costs associated with problem gambling.
The 500 or so people in attendance appeared to be evenly split on the issue, either in favour or against, and sometimes indifferent.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Corporation officials said it was the biggest turnout they had seen during a public consultation session, which is a required part of the process in opening a casino in Ontario.
There were reports of arguments in the parking lot beforehand and there was a certain level of emotion in the RecPlex’s main auditorium during the two-and-a-half hour meeting.
While officials from the OLG presented an image of a highly regulated slots operation that creates middle-income employment, provides much needed funds for municipalities and the province and provides a lot of support programs for those with gambling addictions, religious leaders and doctors presented a different view.
The meeting had an unusual format in that after the OLG presentation, members of the public were allowed to submit written questions that were posed to OLG representatives through their respective mayors. The public was not allowed to address OLG reps directly and by the time it came to an open mic session, OLG reps had left the room to conduct media interviews.
While many people left at the two-hour mark, those vehemently opposed to the casino held in until the end of the meeting to have their five minutes at the microphone.
Mark Quigg, an area doctor who said he did part of his training at Homewood in Guelph, where there is an addictions centre, submitted a letter of opposition on behalf of 28 area doctors. He said gambling is as addictive as drugs.
Quigg painted a disturbing picture of people sitting at slots for endless hours wearing adult diapers, children being left in the parking lot while their parent is inside the casino, teen gambling and suicide.
“Stories about [suicides] happening on our properties are grossly exaggerated,” said OLG director of policy and social responsibility Paul Pellizzari.
Those opposed asked the mayors and members of council to consider whether or not the financial benefits are worth adding temptation, destroying families and threatening bankruptcy for some who are already living close to the edge, in substandard housing.
Mike Lewin, a Collingwood doctor, asked is the revenue worth the risk and questioned the logic of getting into a partnership with an organization that spends so much money cleaning up problems it helps create.
The OLG said $28-million is spent each year on gambling addiction counseling.
Under a new funding formula, the OLG said the host municipality will get 5.2 per cent of the first $65-million of casino profits. It is up to the host municipality to decide if and how to divide that money with its neighbours.
So far, Wasaga Beach and Collingwood are the only two municipalities considering the possibility of being a host municipality. If that’s the case, a tie would be broken by the OLG as it moves through the process of choosing a private casino operator based on the best business plan.