Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Let's Talk About Casinos

Casinos are certainly a hot topic of discussion here in my little corner of the world. And it seems to me that the people who are most vocal, on both sides, do not have a common view of what a casino is, or more precisely what kind of casino is being proposed for this area.

Background: The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is looking for expressions of interest to determine if communities are amenable to hosting a casino. Currently there is an OLG run slot machine operation within 10 kilometers of the City offering free shuttles on a regular basis throughout the week. This facility is in a revenue sharing agreement with the neighbouring municipality that has resulted in millions being poured into the local coffers over a number of years. There is a larger full on gaming facility within a two hour drive that offers free shuttles as well.

At their best, casinos can be an entertainment hub, drawing patrons from far and wide to spend their entertainment dollars. They can employ significant numbers of people in jobs offering reasonable pay with the potential for upward mobility in the gaming industry and beyond. And who wouldn't want that?

Well, there is the other view.  Casinos are a magnet to attract organized crime and become a centre for illicit activities including drugs and prostitution.  They prey on the poor and those with addiction problems, particularly gambling addictions, leading to widespread crime and social problems in the broader community. And who wants that?

Lately, those who hold the latter view have been quite vocal in their opposition to Peterborough hosting a casino.

The argument put forward by those opposed speak of a casino as a den of iniquity as well as the social ills that accompany the type of gambling associated with these kinds of enterprises. Bring the casino to town they say and those ills will come with it.

Here's the thing though. Those 'ills' are already here.  There are local cases of individuals squandering their family's savings and their trust resulting in family breakdowns.  Social agencies regularly report the existence of these problems within our city. There is no doubt that some of the petty crime that occurs here is a result of desperate individuals trying to deal with their financial losses.  Our local police force has indicated, though, that they feel that any increase in crime within the city would be negligible if the casino were to move 10 kilometres closer.

And the city receives no money from the local casino to fund the agencies that have to clean up the mess created when people are unable to control their own behaviours. So the taxpayer and the goodwill of populace step in to fill that financial gap.

But let's for the sake of argument assume that no casino will be located within commuting distance and that no free transporation will be provided for patrons who wish to attend at a more distant facility.  Does that mean we will also stop selling lottery tickets? Will we ask local internet service providers to ban access to gambling sites?  The bottom line is, people with a gambling addiction will find some way to satisfy(?) their urges and desires.  Banning a casino will not protect those people from themselves.

There is little chance that the neighbouring municipality will share the spoils of hosting a gambling den.  If this city wants to get their hands on any of the revenue generated by a gaming facility, in whatever form, it will be necessary for the casino to be situated within the city limits.

So the question is really, would you prefer to have the money and the related problems or would you rather have just the problems?