North Bay mayor lukewarm on casino

North Bay city council voted yes to having a casino last year, but the mayor says it was more of a maybe.

North Bay community members divided on bringing a casino to the Gateway city for the first time

The charity administrator with Blue Sky Bingo in North Bay is concerned about a casino coming to that city. (Erik White/CBC)

North Bay city council voted yes to having a casino last year, but the mayor says it was more of a maybe.

Al McDonald said he found out the province wanted to put a casino in his city by reading a news website.

"It came as complete surprise," he said. "It was kind of just dumped on our lap."

He said he likes the idea of the city getting $2 million in casino revenue and 200 well-paying jobs, but admitted the prospect of a casino doesn’t get him that excited.

"My preference would be that we are not even dealing with this issue," he said. "I can tell you today it is at the bottom of the pile of work that I am doing."

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald says city council will vote again on whether to bring a casino to that city once more information is known. (Erik White/CBC)

McDonald said North Bay council voted yes to a casino with conditions, and added the city could still turn the province down.

The head of the North Bay Chamber of Commerce said he’s surprised to hear the mayor’s opinion.

President Derek Shogren said if city council changes its mind, it could hurt them in next year’s election.

"There’s overwhelming support, certainly, from the business community," he said. "I think there’s a small, vocal opposition."

Both sides agree that, if the city of North Bay says no, the casino could still show up in a neighbouring town or First Nation just outside city limits.

‘It’ll hurt them’

The charity bingo hall in the city is warning that there could be unforeseen side effects.

Blue Sky Bingo supports 62 groups and clubs in North Bay, who run programs for kids, seniors and everyone in between.

The charity administrator said a casino could take a big bite out of the $1.2 million the bingo raises for charity.

Mark Brown said that could change the kind of social programs people count on.

"It’ll hurt them in ways that they don’t even recognize or realize at this point," he said.

Brown spoke out against the casino last year when city council was making a decision, but said that fight was lost.

"Locally, it’s been made very clear to us that the fight is over, that the city has made its decision," he said.

Mayor McDonald said city council will vote again in the coming months, once more information about the proposed casino is known.

Stay tuned to CBC Radio One in Sudbury and northeastern Ontario all this week for more on this story. Our series "The Big Gamble" has been airing on Morning North. Parts of the series will also be on CBC’s afternoon show, Points North, as well as on the regional news.