A man gambles on casino slot machines. Pixabay

Faith leaders battle Sudbury casino

  • April 5, 2018

More than 50 faith leaders, including Sault Ste. Marie Bishop Marcel Damphousse, have banded together to oppose a $60 million casino project on the eastern edge of Greater Sudbury.

But so far the faith side is losing the battle against gambling, with just one more vote to go at city council on April 10. The proposal was passed at a marathon planning committee meeting March 26.

“Whoever develops an addiction and loses everything, it’s churches and social groups and the synagogues and the mosque who are going to be the ones picking up the slack,” said Christopher Duncanson-Hales, a member of a committee opposed to the a casino. “We do the charity in the Church. That’s our job and we’re up for it. But this is the justice side of it. You have to fight to stop it in the first place.”

The proposed casino site is surrounded by low income and subsidized housing, not far from a seniors’ complex with more than 1,000 residents. The people on fixed incomes are among the most vulnerable to personal ruin through gambling, the University of Sudbury theologian said.

“It’s in the middle of low-income housing where the health unit and the Canadian Mental Health Association has clearly stated that the closer proximity to the casino and the impact on people of lesser means or in subsidized housing is proportionately greater,” said Duncanson-Hales.

He predicts that if the casino is built Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish’s independent food bank will be overwhelmed by demand.

Gambling isn’t new to Sudbury. The Sudbury Downs racetrack has offered parimutuel wagering on harness racing for generations. After Ontario opened up to other forms of legal gambling in 1993, Sudbury Downs installed slot machines in 1999.

In 2016 the province sent out a Request for Proposals on what it called the “Northern Gaming Bundle”including North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Kenora and Sudbury. 

By February last year Vancouver-based Gateway Casinos had the contract and was in control of the slots at Sudbury Downs. Plans quickly evolved for an expansion of gambling to the “Kingsway Entertainment District” where the city is planning on a $100 million arena for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves and a hotel.

The 407 slot machines at Sudbury Downs generate more than $2 million a year for the City of Greater Sudbury, which has a population of 161,500. The company employs 141 people.

The claim that expanded gambling is going to create more jobs and generate new tourist dollars is empty, Duncanson Hales said.

“It’s not creating jobs. It’s taking jobs away,” he said, adding that city council has pushed aside studies that show the social costs of easier access to gambling outweigh the supposed benefits. 

For the most part Sudbury citizens are somewhere between resigned to an inevitable expansion of gambling to hopeful the new entertainment district will be a plus, said Sudbury Living magazine editor Vicki Gilhula. 

“Ten thousand people care, the rest do not,” she said.

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