News emerged today that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is promising a special deal to provide Toronto with a larger slice of the proceeds if a casino is built in the city. The OLG figures suggest that Toronto would receive somewhere in the range of $50 to $100 million per year in hosting fees.
The OLG’s promise is intended to quell concern that Toronto would receive only $20 million per year by using their standard formula for dividing up gambling revenues. However, given that the City’s official casino consultation documents from January show that OLG had already promised $50 to $100 million per year for Toronto, OLG’s announcement is old news.
Regardless of the exact dollar amount, these figures raise an important question about how much revenue it would take for Toronto to agree to a casino that would harm the health and well-being of our most vulnerable residents.
A recent Wellesley Institute assessment highlighted the inequitable health impacts of problem gambling. We found that up to 4.7 percent of Ontarians can already be defined as problem gamblers and that problem gambling rates tend to increase after casinos are built in communities.
Problem gambling has significant health implications: it can contribute to depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress-related disorders, and there are clear links between problem gambling and problem drinking. This combination increases risk of intimate partner violence. And, most alarmingly, 32 percent of problem gamblers report that they have considered suicide within the last 12 months.
These are significant issues for anyone. But we also found that not everyone is at equal risk. People living in poverty, new Canadians, seniors, and young people are more likely to become problem gamblers and are therefore more likely to experience negative health outcomes as a result. This is especially concerning because these populations already have poorer health than other Torontonians.
The Wellesley Institute is not alone in these findings. A report from Toronto Public Health and CAMH showed similar results, and public health units in Hamilton, Peterborough, Simcoe Muskoka, and Waterloo all agree.
The real cost of a casino is clear. OLG can’t compensate for the health and social costs of a casino in Toronto or the surrounding area.