Toronto’s Board of Health has unanimously affirmed its opposition to a new casino.
The board met Monday at city hall and discussed a report from medical health officer Dr. David McKeown on the community impacts of a casino. The report, released last week, said a casino would be expected to bring more adverse health-related impacts than beneficial ones.
Councillor Gord Perks, who moved the motion that called on the board to declare its opposition, said there are better ways for the city to make money than to “pick the pockets” of its residents.
“Our job as the Board of Health is to look out for the health of Torontonians,” he said after the meeting. “We have it on clear and unquestioned authority that gambling is bad for the health of Torontonians.”
Dr. McKeown’s report said a casino could increase employment, which is an important determinant of health. However, it also said a casino could increase traffic volume and congestion, hurting air quality.
The report added there are “negative family impacts associated with problem gambling, including domestic assault, child abuse and divorce,” and that lower-income individuals and families could be particularly affected because they contribute proportionally more of their income to gambling.
The Canadian Gaming Association wrote a letter calling the report “fundamentally flawed” because it does not account for the fact that casino-style gaming has been available to Torontonians for more than a decade, at Woodbine.
However, Dr. McKeown said after the meeting that the level of access Torontonians have to gambling is lower than in other parts of the country.
“We do not have a major casino in the city,” he said. “Our closest casino is 80 kilometres away. There are some slots at Woodbine, it’s true. But overall we have lower levels of access. And the research is pretty clear that when you increase levels of access by, for example, bringing a casino into a community, that there’s more problem gambling that happens.”
Councillor Joe Mihevc, the board’s chair, said the evidence indicates a casino would not be good for the city because there is too much risk.
Mayor Rob Ford has expressed his support for the casino, saying it would bring in significant revenue and thousands of jobs.
City council is expected to decide whether it wants a Toronto casino in April.
The casino was not the only item on the board’s agenda Monday. It also passed a motion involving caffeinated energy drinks.
The board will urge Health Canada and the province of Ontario to “develop a regulatory framework for the advertising and promotion of energy drinks to children and adolescents.”
It will also urge Health Canada to require the addition of a warning label to energy drink packaging that says, “Energy drinks are not recommended for use during exercise or to rehydrate following exercise.”