London

If we expand gambling in London, will we also see more gambling addiction?

The city of London is asking for public feedback on a proposed gaming expansion at the Western Fair District. We asked a gambling addiction expert whether this expansion could mean more problem gambling in the city.

London could add 50 table games and several hundred new slot machines to the Western Fair District

A proposed gaming expansion could mean 50 new table games and more than 400 new slot machines at the Western Fair District. (CBC)

Right now, the casino at the Western Fair District has only slot machines: 738 of them to be exact.

But the city is looking at adding another 462 slot machines, bringing the total up to 1500 and 50 live table games such as poker, blackjack and roulette.

Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer says this has prompted some residents in his ward to wonder about a possible increase in problem gambling.

"Problem gamblers can sometimes lose their entire lives to problem gambling," said Helmer. "We have to be very careful and thoughtful when we're looking at the expansion of gaming in the city of London."

Slots vs. table games

So could more slots and games in London mean an increase in problem gamblers?

It's possible, according to Nigel Turner, a gambling expert with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

"Any time you increase the availability of gambling there's a potential of an increase in problem gambling," said Turner.

Still, the impact would be milder given the city already has several hundred slot machines, he said. 

"By and large, the slot machines make up the majority of people who have gambling problems," he said, adding that about 20 per cent of slot machine revenue comes from those who have these types of problems. 

Most people in treatment for gambling addiction are there because they have problems with slot machines, not table games, said Turner.

But, this could simply be because there are far fewer table games than slot machines in the province. 

Those who do seek treatment for table gaming addictions tend to have lost more money at a faster pace, he said.

"I've known a person who's playing in Niagara Falls [and] racked up a quarter million dollars playing roulette," said Turner. "It would take you a lot longer to lose that much playing slot machines."

Consultation

A certain proportion of the revenue from Western Fair gaming goes back into the city of London. According to a city website, these funds are used at the discretion of city council to fund public infrastructure and capital projects.

The city of London is seeking public input on its proposed gaming expansion. The first open house will be held tonight at the Kiwanis Senior's Community Centre, and there will be a public participation meeting at City Hall on April 23.