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Community leaders have reservations about a casino in Belleville

Construction on Bell Boulevard, one of the potential sites for a casino in Belleville. Photo by Mark Hodgins, QNet News [1]

Construction on Bell Boulevard, considered a potential site for a casino in Belleville. Photo by Mark Hodgins, QNet News

By Sean McIntosh [2]

BELLEVILLE – A casino is potentially coming to Belleville [3], but the results may not all be positive, according to some community leaders.

In September, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation [4] gave its approval to a casino being built in the Quinte area, and said that Belleville is the preferred location. The western end of Bell Boulevard has been widely bandied about as a potential location. But some people in the community think a casino is a bad idea.

Mary LaBine, the manager of Addictions and Mental Health Services Hastings Prince Edward [5], said a casino could be problematic for some residents.

“If something is accessible in your community, you’re going to have larger participation, and a percentage of that population may experience difficulties with it,” LaBine told QNet News.

Certain types of gambling can be worse than others, she said.

“Slot machines in particular have been identified as more problematic than other types of gambling,” she said. According to the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario [6], people are drawn to slot machines because the odds of winning are low and the game moves at high speed.

LaBine said it’s not uncommon for people to fall into a financial hole while gambling.

“Say I have difficulty with slot machines. I have increased involvement and I start spending more money than I can afford to lose. It starts to become more consuming and I start (trying to recover) my losses. Well, that’s going to have a financial impact on myself, people who are my creditors and other people in my life.”

The company that has won the contract to build a casino in the Quinte area and to operate Casino Thousand Islands [7] near Gananoque and the slots at Kawartha Downs [8] south of Peterborough is Great Canadian Gaming [9]. Chuck Keeling, the company’s vice-president, said the casino here may have more than just slots.

“We have contemplated tables (for card games) as well,” he said. The casino may also have “food and beverage, with modest entertainment,” Keeling added.

While Belleville is the preferred site for the casino, it is not the confirmed location yet, he noted. Quinte West is another option.

Rev. David Mundy, the lead minister at Bridge Street United Church [10] in Belleville, said there shouldn’t be a casino in this region.

“The United Church of Canada has consistently been opposed to casinos,” Mundy said.

The casino would be a financial success for the owners rather than help the city, he added.

“I think there’s this carrot being chased, saying that a casino will bring revenue and all this prosperity. But there’s a whole lot of evidence showing that’s not the case.”

When you create the opportunity for gambling, it can result in people becoming addicted to it, Mundy said. “Families have been torn apart” due to gambling addiction, he said. “Families (have) disintegrated.”

Mundy added that he can’t see a Belleville casino being “miraculously different” than casinos in other places have been.

“In my experience, it’s not that good for the community.”

But Mayor Taso Christopher disagreed, saying a casino would help any municipality it’s in.

“It will definitely be a vehicle to assist us on (paying for infrastructure projects) going forward,” he said.

A system will be set up to help people with addiction problems if the city gets the casino, Christopher said.

“There’s a mechanism in there to have support for different levels of social assistance and direction in assistance. And that will all be rolled out when they bring the program into Belleville.”

A study on gambling and problem gambling [11] that was done in the Bay of Quinte area from 2006 to 2011 found that, while a majority of the people surveyed were either non-gamblers or gambled only recreationally, there are problem gamblers whom the the researchers called “unstable.” The study, done by Dr. Robert K. Williams, a professor at the University of Lethbridge [12] in Alberta, surveyed problem gamblers, non-gamblers, recreational gamblers and at-risk gamblers over the five years.