With city council preparing to debate whether or not Toronto should get a casino, the Archbishop of Toronto has penned a letter to Roman Catholics across the entire Greater Toronto Area, warning other proposed casino sites that the negative social impacts would outweigh any benefits.
Cardinal Thomas Collins released his letter Thursday. In it, he said he has seen the "grievous suffering experienced by individuals and families because of gambling dependence."
"Gambling is inherently based on illusion – on promoting the fantasy, particularly attractive to the most vulnerable and the most desperate, that it is an easy way to provide a quick solution to the financial problems that they face. That is a cruel illusion, and it is not wholesome for governments to promote it, especially through extensive advertising," he wrote.
"It is sometimes said that should anyone become addicted, gambling's proceeds can be used to treat their addiction. Apart from the fact that this is rather dubious logic, as it makes more sense not to cause the problem in the first place, problem gambling is a serious public health concern."
The downtown Toronto casino would need to be approved by council but more than half of councillors have already said they oppose the new gambling facility, though that could change as more information comes in. The issue is expected to be debated by city council next month.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is rewriting its hosting-fee formula, by order of the Premier, after The Globe and Mail reported Toronto was getting a far better deal than other municipalities. The revised formula is expected to be released by the end of April.
OLG chairman Paul Godfrey has said he favours a casino on Toronto's waterfront, but if the city rejects a casino downtown, other communities such as Vaughan and Markham could step in and say yes.
The Archdiocese of Toronto encompasses about 40 municipalities in the GTA.
Neil MacCarthy, a diocese spokesman, said in an interview, "It's not just a Toronto issue, it's for the Catholic community."
Cardinal Collins said it is understandable that governments are tempted by the prospect of what seems to be an easy way to help the economy, but he said that is outweighed by the "adverse effect on the vitality and social health of our community."
He noted that a report from Toronto's medical officer of health said a casino would have negative health-related effects and said he was particularly concerned marriages and families would be "hurt or even destroyed" through greater ease of access to gambling.
"In our parishes … we seek to strengthen families, and we directly deal with the suffering which gambling addiction causes to individuals and families," he wrote. "We seek to heal, and are concerned by the expansion of the capacity to harm."
The letter from Cardinal Collins was released nearly three weeks after a coalition of faith leaders held a news conference at City Hall urging city council to reject plans to expand gambling. The religious leaders included an Anglican bishop, Jesuit priest, imam, guru, rabbi, and two former moderators of the United Church of Canada.
Rev. Christopher White, who helped organize the event, said the coalition represented 250 faith leaders.
The cardinal's letter concludes by looking inward at the Catholic community, asking it to examine any connection it might have to gambling as a source of revenue.
He said the church must not fund its good works in ways that cause suffering to others.