Few voices of dissent as OLG makes casino pitch

There may have been a feeling of déjà vu in the air, but this go-round of the Woolwich gambling debate had a much lower key to it than was the case more than a dozen years ago. Only a handful of residents got up to speak Tuesday night following a presentation by the Ontario Lottery […]

Last updated on May 04, 23

Posted on Nov 23, 12

4 min read

There may have been a feeling of déjà vu in the air, but this go-round of the Woolwich gambling debate had a much lower key to it than was the case more than a dozen years ago.

Only a handful of residents got up to speak Tuesday night following a presentation by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) at a Woolwich council meeting held at the WMC to accommodate a larger crowd, though there were fewer than 60 people in attendance.

The meeting was the first in what Mayor Todd Cowan promised would be an “extensive public process” to determine if Woolwich is interested in hosting a casino under OLG’s plan to modernize gaming in the province.

Woolwich is part of a newly-created gaming zone, which also includes Kitchener, Waterloo, Wilmot Township and parts of Cambridge and Wellington County. The OLG is seeking municipalities willing to host a new facility.

A new casino in the township would mean the closure of the slots facility at the Grand River Raceway in Elora, itself the creation of the last gaming debate in Woolwich. Almost 15 years ago there were lengthy debates about the addition of slot machines at what was then the Elmira Raceway, with council ultimately rejecting the idea and prompting the Woolwich Agricultural Society to move their operation up the road, where the OLG facility opened in December 2003.

This week’s discussion was much less involved and contained none of the acrimony seen the last time around.

Representatives of OLG made a pitch, touting the benefits of hosting a gaming facility.

Rick Gray, the agency’s vice-president of gaming transformation, noted the OLG annually turns over some $1.7 to $2 billion to provincial coffers while employing, directly and indirectly, 18,000 people.

“What we do is for the greater good of the province,” he said of the revenues generated.

As part of its modernization plan, the agency is looking to partner with the private sector in offering up new facilities closer to its customers than is currently the case with some of the slots-at-racetrack operations – “getting the product where the people are” – he explained.

Jake Pastore, OLG’s manager of community and municipal relations, said the goal is to find communities willing to host the facilities, adding so far 40 communities in the 29 newly-minted gaming zones have shown an interest. A vote from council supporting the initiative is necessary to move forward and to show that “the Township of Woolwich is in the game.”

There are benefits for Woolwich if it were to host a casino, he argued. The Grand River Raceway, with 240 slot machines, has generated $16.2 million for the Township of Centre-Wellington since it first opened. In the bigger picture, wages and benefits paid to employees have totalled $52.3 million, with the facility buying goods and service from local vendors worth another $4 million.

As a new facility could have up to 1,200 slot machines and gaming tables, he pointed to the casino in Brantford that, though smaller, would give some indication of the potential economic impact. That facility has provided the municipality with $46.3 million since it opened in November 1999, while providing wages and benefits to staff – current employment is 880 – worth $459.7 million.

The economic argument wasn’t an issue for some of the speakers, however, who objected to the idea on moral grounds, particularly the risk of problem gambling, which the OLG says affects about one to five per cent of gamblers.

Rob Simpson, the former CEO of the Ontario Problem Gaming Research Centre, said Woolwich should question whether it wants to be part of a business that does create gaming addictions. By example, he detailed the case of an Elora woman who became severely addicted to gambling on slots at the Grand River Raceway, losing $60,000 of her family’s money before stealing $720,000 from her employee to feed her addiction.

A considerable amount of the revenue generated by gaming facilities comes from a small minority of regular spenders.

“Woolwich Township must ask: is this the kind revenue the community wants to generate?”

For Clint Rohr, a pastor and St. Jacobs resident, the downsides of gambling far outweigh any benefits, despite the “significant carrot” of the money involved.

It was an argument made by a few others, though the residents who spoke were split on the issue.

Sue Murdoch, an Elmira resident who went through the first debate on the issue and ended working at the Grand River Raceway, accentuated the positives, reminding people that none of the problems widely predicted the last time came to pass.

“There is nothing but good relationships gained through being a gaming site. The dirty little secret about gaming ist there isn’t one.”

For Maryhill’s Paul Kraemer, the issue of problem gambling is akin to what happens with liquor, where there’s easily one to five per cent of the population that has a problem with drinking.

“But I don’t see the liquor stores closing,” he said, noting that gambling is a recreational pursuit, with people choosing to spend their entertainment dollars.

“I’d like to see them spend it where Woolwich might get a little piece of that.”

To get more opinions on the matter, the township will be mailing surveys to every household, and taking feedback on its website, www.woolwich.ca. There will be more debate before any decisions are made, councillors promised.

; ; ;

Share on

Post In: