Barrie pastors advise Hamilton casino opponents not to preach

Barrie's city council has said "no," to a prospective casino. Those against the casino have advice for Hamilton.

Earlier this week, Barrie's city council decided not to move ahead with a prospective casino in the city and those who opposed the casino have some advice for Hamiltonians.

"Don't take a moralistic, holier-than-thou approach. Just look at the costs," said Les Galicinski, president of the Barrie Christian Council, one of several groups that were opposed to a casino in the area.

"We didn't want to take a moralistic view — we weren't saying gambling is evil — but the social costs are high. Do the research and find out what the true costs of gambling are."

The BCC's strategy culminated with several formal letters to council after months of collecting research supporting their claims that the social and economic costs of a casino would outweigh the benefits. Specifically, the group referenced a CBC News investigation that found an increase in gambling-related suicides.

Hamilton's strategy is similar to Barrie's

"While the gaming industry claims that only three  per cent of gamblers become 'problem gamblers,' statistics offered by other sources suggest  that it is closer to 5-6 per cent.  Suicide attempts among these may range between 17-24 per cent," the BCC wrote.

"Assuming that only 10 per cent of the population of Barrie become patrons of the proposed Casino, then we can anticipate 720 new problem gamblers and possibly 144 suicide attempts in Barrie in one year alone."

The opponents in Hamilton have a similar strategy — the movement's website lists half a dozen reports and is actively seeking more — and one member of the movent, Dan Jelly, said the Barrie group's advice fits with their strategy.

"We have avoided being 'preachy' or divisive where possible, it's not an issue of Liberal vs. Conservative and NDP, or an issue of whether gambling is inherently right or wrong," Jelly said.

"It may be a 'CasiNO!' campaign, but it's based on positivity about our community and our desire to protect it."

'A casino didn't fit with their view of Barrie's downtown,' Mayor says.

In Barrie, the research into social costs was enough to convince the city council, who spent six weeks consulting with the public at the end of last year.

"For many, a casino didn't fit with their view of Barrie's downtown. They were worried it could attract social problems" Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said.

"We also already have a gaming facility at Georgian Downs, so it wouldn't create a lot of new jobs and there was concern for those existing jobs."

Lehman said the city used four methods to collect public opinion: a dedicated e-mail where residents could voluntarily send in their thoughts, an online survey open to the public, a scientific telephone poll and an open house. Other than the telephone poll, the results were overwhelmingly against, he said. However, the telephone poll results we're almost exactly evenly split.

Hamilton's process 'has been hijacked,' one opponent of casino says

"The public at large in Barrie is perfectly split on whether it would be a good idea or a bad idea," Lehman said, but added some of that could be due to a lack of knowledge.

"The questions is whether or not people really have a sense of issues like gambling addiction. There's probably not a lot of knowledge of those issues."

But Matthew Green, another vocal member of the casino opposition in Hamilton, said he worries all their research may be in vain.

"The difference between Barrie and Hamilton is that, here, the whole process has been hijacked by a select few in the city," Green said, pointing to specific incidents he says show a conflict on interest, such as the mayor's leaked letter on behalf of Carmen's Group.

"The research we've gathered tells us the social costs and economic costs are way too high to warrant trying to integrate a casino into downtown neighbourhoods. But I haven't seen any evidence that it would be beneficial."

The debate continues in Hamilton, with two public forums on the issue in January — one at Waterdown high school on the 16th and another downtown on the 17th.