Ancaster ministers warns against downtown Hamilton casino

A group of Ancaster religious leaders has come out against a casino in downtown Hamilton.

A group of Ancaster religious leaders has come out against a casino in downtown Hamilton.

The Ancaster Ministerial Association, which represents 16 churches ranging from Baptist to Catholic to Christian Reformed, has written Hamilton council saying a casino in the core would impact the city's most vulnerable citizens.

"We strongly believe that the pursuit of a casino in downtown Hamilton would lead to net negative effects within the community," wrote Rev. Aaron Gerrard.

The group fears the casino will negatively impact people in poverty, Gerrard said Wednesday.

"Being involved in the church, we would like to think we're an institution for people, for humanity," he said. "Seeing people go down a particular path harmful for them and taking care of 'the least of these,' a casino doesn't fit the agenda."

The city has been grappling with the notion of a casino this year in light of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's (OLG) modernization of gaming in the province. Earlier this year, it canceled its Slots at Racetracks program, through which it operates 801 slots at Flamboro Downs and provides about $4.4 million annually to the city.

Council has until February to decide whether to pass a resolution saying it welcomes gaming elsewhere in the municipality.

As for other religions, the Muslim Association of Hamilton doesn't have an official stance on the casino, said spokesperson Raza Khan. But it doesn't agree with gambling facilities.

"Gambling is not permitted in our religion," he said. "Muslims in general would shy away from places like that."

"I personally would agree with the church position."

Judaism does not prohibit gambling, but frowns upon problem gambling, particularly when people rely on gambling wins to pay their rent, said Rabbi Dan Selsberg of Beth Jacob Synagogue.

Hamilton Jews have not taken an official stance on the notion of a casino. But Selsberg has heard sentiments that echo those of the Ancaster ministers.

"Many people here have shared concerns about building it close to downtown, and making sure it doesn't take advantage of people who are vulnerable."

Rabbi Jordan Cohen from the Temple Anshe Sholom says gambling is rarely discussed in his congregation.

"It hasn't been a hot topic of discussion in our community."