Hamilton councillors examine potential health impact of casino

A report from the medical officer of health is the focus of a city committee examining a possible casino.
Residents rally against the Hamilton casino proposal at a city hall meeting Dec. 13. Samantha Craggs/CBC

Minimizing the impact of a casino on Hamilton's vulnerable populations is not as simple as keeping one out of the downtown core, the city's medical officer of health says.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson told the city's gaming facility subcommittee Thursday morning that there are poverty-ridden areas throughout the city, including on the Mountain.

And studies show that proximity matters when it comes to a person's susceptibility to problem gambling, but reports of how close they need to be to have an effect on people are mixed.

"When you're considering where to locate [a casino] and thinking about the impacts on vulnerable populations, it's really quite a complex analysis," she said.

Richardson's report on the health impacts of a casino shows that higher concentrations of problem gambling occur in areas surrounding a casino.

Upcoming town hall meetings about the casino:

Jan. 16 — Waterdown District High School, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 17 — Hamilton city hall, 6:30 p.m.

Some studies show higher participation in gambling in areas within 16 kilometres of a casino. One shows higher rates within 80 kilometres. In those cases, "considering Flamborough compared to downtown isn't as significant," Richardson said.

Other reports show that the ease of getting to a casino by walking or public transportation can also be a factor.

"To say we can move it away from a particular vulnerable population is challenging," she said.

Public health staff will keep track of problem gamblers by postal code and bring back a report to the subcommittee.

According to existing public health figures, 1 per cent of Hamiltonians — or about 5,000 people — experience "moderate to high-risk problems" as a result of gambling. But those numbers are likely underreported, Richardson said.

When you factor in people who say they spend more than they intended while gambling, it goes up to about 25 per cent, she said.

The OLG currently has 801 slots at Flamboro Downs through the province's Slots at Racetracks program, but the province announced that program's dismantling earlier this year. The OLG's lease at Flamboro Downs expires on March 31.

The OLG is currently working out a short-term lease with Great Canadian Gaming, which operates Flamboro Downs. The two sides are still negotiating.

The city gets about $4.4 million per year from the slots, which goes into the general operating budget.

About 30 anti-casino activists attended Thursday morning's meeting with black and red "NO!" signs.

This graphic shows the areas downtown Hamilton that are already zoned to allow for a casino and hotel complex. (Kevin Gamble/CBC)