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Casino debate continues in Woolwich

Gail Martin
Independent Editor

A staff report is recommending that Woolwich Township agree to be a “willing host community” for a potential casino.
The Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation has embarked on a modernization of its gambling program in the province, creating several gaming zones within the province where it hopes to introduce new casinos. Woolwich is within gaming zone SW1, which includes Waterloo Region and parts of Wellington Township, including Centre Wellington.
Municipalities are being asked to decide on whether they would be a willing host community for a casino that would have up to 1,200 slot machines as well as table games.
So far in Waterloo Region, the city of Cambridge has rejected the proposal, as has Wilmot Township. Kitchener and Waterloo have yet to make any decision on the matter.
The 65-page staff report was tabled at the Feb. 19 committee-of-the-whole meeting, and highlighted potential revenues of $4 million annually, along with additional tax revenue and potential for up to 900 jobs, should the casino go ahead.
The report also suggested two possible locations for such a casino within the township — either at the St. Jacobs stockyards, or at a property at 2069 Shantz Station Road, alongside the proposed alignment of the new Highway 7.
The report also contained the results of the township’s postcard and online survey. A total of 1,954 residents responded to the survey (approximately 11 per cent of eligible voters), with 62 per cent opposed to the casino and 38 per cent in favour.
While the township report was tabled at the Feb. 19 meeting, councillors did not vote on the recommendation.
That will come at a future meeting, set for March 5.
Instead, councillors not only heard from township staff but various local stakeholders on the issue, in an attempt to give councillors as much information as possible before making the decision.
At the meeting, councillors heard from presenters that expressed both concern about the potential negative impacts of a casino, as well as those who urged council to consider the financial benefits.
Dr. Liana Nolan, the Region’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, cautioned councillors to consider the potential for problem gambling to increase, if a casino is located within Woolwich Township.
Nolan noted that problem gambling disproportionately affects certain groups, including men, youth, older adults, and individuals with low income, and is more problematic in communities that have easy access to addictive forms of gambling, such as slot machines and table games.
Mayor Todd Cowan questioned Nolan, noting that gambling is already a part of Woolwich Township.
“We can’t pretend we don’t have gambling,” said Cowan, citing local bingo games, as well as the sale of lottery tickets.
“The forms of gambling that include playing slots and table games are much more addictive,” countered Nolan, “and the amounts that one can lose is much greater, so the types of gambling permitted matters to the community.”
Rob Simpson, former CEO of the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, critiqued the staff report on the issue, suggesting that it overlooked the potential for harm, while overestimating the potential gain.
Simpson said that the assumption that a casino would draw most of its revenue from outside of Woolwich Township is incorrect, given the fact that other casinos would also be permitted throughout the provice.
“OLG has plans for similar casinos in Hamilton, London and Halton, smaller ones in Woodstock and Huron Country, the casino in Brantford and two gigantic casinos in Toronto,” said Simpson. “Why would Waterloo Region be a destination when each of these offer the exactly same games?”
However, Mark Bingeman, of the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation, told a different story, suggesting a casino could prove to be a tourist draw, if it was marketed and packaged properly.
And township resident Melissa Snyder, who told councillors that she vividly recalled the last debate on slot machines for Woolwich Township, urged councillors to not make a values-based decision, but rather a business-based decision.
Snyder said the last debate made it seem very much as if it was a question of “good versus bad.”
“The township of Woolwich is a business, not a church,” said Snyder. “I want (councillors) to base their vote on business. Is this a good business decision for the township?”
The discussion will continue at the March 5 council meeting, when the mayor of Brantford, along with regional police chief Matt Torigian, have been asked to make presentations.

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