Boosters of more casinos in Ontario – 29 are planned with at least one for the City of Toronto – trot out a stock list of justifications for them. It is claimed that casinos create jobs, stimulate urban development, attract tourism, provide amenities for families and generate net revenue for governments.
The potential social problems casinos create and a full accounting of costs and impacts are not addressed by these boosters.
Let us take the arguments in favour of casinos one by one.
Gambling is among the lowest job-creation sectors and the jobs are overwhelmingly low paid and without benefits.
Urban development stimulus:
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan stated that a casino would be “an anchor that could create a golden mile on Toronto’s waterfront.” Boosters often make such assertions of cities that are in economic trouble, seeking anything to spur development. To attract this promised stimulus, these cities are persuaded to give up valuable land, commonly on waterfronts. Is the assertion true? What actually happens around these urban casinos?
The evidence is that not m uch of value to the city ensues. There is an unavoidable conflict between what is essentially a large, inward-focused, blank box of a building (plus its large parking lot) and the promotion of community activity. While waterfront sites are appealing for their visibility, there is minimal desire on the part of the casino to foster any relationship with the adjoining waterfront or city beyond the controlled compound.
The once great seaside destination Atlantic City, with its grand boardwalk, bet the farm on a cluster of casinos and the promised prosperity they would bring. What they have instead is a decimated downtown and a deteriorated city surrounding the walled casino enclaves and their parking lots. Financial support by the state and local authorities is necessary to rescue these derelict areas.
In Halifax the casino with its darkened windows and narrow, empty walkway on the harbour next to Purdy’s Landing shows the same pattern. So too do the casinos in St. Louis, Detroit and Windsor.
Once gambling tourists arrive, the casino aims to keep them captive, focused on the slots and gambling tables, or using the hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs within its internal orbit.
But other types of “tourists” are also attracted. Loan sharks haunt casinos and approach gamblers who are near, or at the point of losing their stake. They offer high-interest loans to “help win their money back” and take personal and family information to ensure repayment. This has been well documented in British Columbia – it is part of organized crime operating in major casinos.
Money launderers are also present. These people deposit cash in “front money accounts,” play a little, then cash out with laundered money. Withdrawal tranches are kept under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements.
Casinos, nightclubs and bars and all that are associated with them are hardly the stuff of a family attraction.
Gambling is an extractive industry – it removes money from the economy. Every dollar spent is taken from other consumer purchases. This means that if the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s projected gambling revenue of $1.3-billion from a new casino and other gambling forms represents dollars in, they are offset by equal dollars out, redirected from the existing economy. A shell game. The main beneficiaries are the casino operators and, to a much lesser degree, governments. Casino operators want more casinos because the house always wins and they make billions.
Governments want more casinos to raise revenue without apparently having to raise taxes. However, the result in effect would be a tax on those least able to bear the financial burden. Most gamblers suffer financial loss and sometimes bankruptcy. Some become addicted, which can destroy not only their own lives but those of their families. Approximately 35 per cent of all gambling revenue in Ontario comes from the 340,000 problem gamblers. These vulnerable gamblers are characterized by an inability to control behaviour and become targets for exploitation.
If all the social costs of gambling are considered, it is debatable whether governments gain net revenue. And even if there were any fiscal gain, there is still the question of the morality of employing gambling as an instrument of public financing.
The arguments for the expansion of gambling facilities hold little water. For a city, particularly one with a strong, healthy and diverse local economy like Toronto, to squander valuable lands based on faulty premises would be an egregious mistake.