A debate in Sudbury has pitted the city’s hopes that a new casino would come with a convention centre or arena against concerns about growing addiction and the social problems that could come with that.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming is considering building new casinos in cities in northeastern Ontario, including Sudbury, but those who are trying to give up gambling are watching the process unfold closely.
In Sudbury at a Gambler’s Anonymous support group, an organizer, a 52-year-old man named Jim, said his gambling habit turned into an addiction 15 years ago when slot machines came to Sudbury Downs.
Jim meets with other people who have gambling problems in a church basement — and all only use their first names.
He said he has a problem with the province using casinos as a way to harvest money from its citizens.
"Well, I know since I’ve quit gambling, I’ve got more money in my pocket," he said. "So, I think there’s other ways they can make money."
Pat, who’s 53, said she thinks Ontario Lottery and Gaming can do more to keep people from getting addicted, but added she doesn’t believe casinos should be shut down.
"I believe for an addict it’s wrong to say ‘no, you shouldn’t have a casino,’ because it’d be like saying you shouldn’t have bingo or you shouldn’t have church on Sunday," she said.
Both Pat and Jim said that location matters and believe fewer Sudburians will get addicted if the casino remains inconveniently out in the country.
‘Everyone is competing for the same entertainment dollar’
However, as the debate continues over where a new casino could go in the city, others argue there is already a lot of competition in Sudbury for the gambling dollar.
At a poker night at Sudbury Downs, 26 players — mostly men in their 30s and 40s, put up $100, hoping to win a video Texas Holdem tournament that comes with a $4,000 prize.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming says it is trying to get younger people into casinos and they want to play Texas Holdem.
An Ontario Provincial Police detective said the popularity of the game has sparked a boom in illegal poker dens, including two that were busted in Sudbury last summer.
Bill Sword added the illicit gaming houses seemed to thrive right after the province opened its first casino in the 1990s, but said it’s hard to know if that will happen this time.
"It’s very difficult to judge because you’re offering up a service [and]
you’re providing something and if they demand suddenly increases, are you meeting that demand?" he said.
People can also legally gamble at one of two bingo halls in Sudbury run by Boardwalk Gaming Centres.
The manager of the facility said he worries a new casino will chip away his company’s profits, and the cut it gives to local charities.
"Having a slot facility or a casino or the movies or a restaurant, everyone is competing for the same entertainment dollar," Denis Sivret said. "I believe every entertainer is my competitor."
Boardwalk is modernizing its business as well, with new slot-machine-like games and the choice of ordering a beer with your bingo card.
Stay tuned to CBC Radio One in Sudbury all this week for more on this story. Our series "The Big Gamble," airs at 7:10 a.m. daily until Thursday on Morning North. Parts of the series will also be on CBC Sudbury's afternoon show Points North, as well as the regional news.