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Local docs raise casino's public health concerns

'Gambling expansion has adverse health impacts on individuals, families and communities. A public health strategy of prevention and harm reduction is recommended' - Health Unit position statement
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Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jim Chirico and local family physician Dr. Carol Zimbalatti have made the concerns of 60 medical doctors, regarding the health-related dangers that a casino could bring to the area, a matter of public record.

At Monday's council meeting, the duo painted a grim picture of problem gambling, broken families and financial ruin.

"The provincial association of local public health agencies, led by Toronto Public Health, passed an imposing resolution calling for the province of Ontario to refrain from expanding gambling availability as a way to generate additional revenues.

"Obviously, that public health advice was ignored," said Chirico as part of the presentation before City Council.

Chirico suggested in his address that a fund should be established from casino revenues to study and to help offset the resulting societal implications of the proliferation of problem gambling. The fund would help with the education, support and treatment for problem gamblers.

Chirico added that potential employment and tax revenue must not be the only factors considered when adding a casino to a community. The health, economic and social effects on individuals and families must be acknowledged and addressed.

Suggested strategies to combat problem gambling include: limiting hours of operation; restricting the number of gaming machines; eliminating casino loyalty programs; reducing maximum bet amount; implementing daily loss limits; and making cash and credit less available on the casino floor.

A player card system that would send a monthly statement to account for casino activity is another recommendation. The report also called for an increase in the age of admittance to the casino to 21.

Zimbalatti presented a petition signed by 60 local physicians concerned with the negative health impacts of a casino opening.  

Following questioning by Coun. Jeff Serran about the inclusion of scratch lottery tickets and other forms of gambling in the report, Coun. Mac Bain asked Chirico whether he was aware if a resolution had been passed at the board level against bingos.

"I think we need to be very careful about making the assumption that simply because we took a harm reduction approach, that does not infer that we are endorsing a casino. 

"We felt that we tried to do that on a provincial level, and that was not forthcoming, it didn't happen. Simply because we didn't say specifically that we are against it, that that's an endorsement. It is not.

"However, if you really want me to go back to the board to try to get them to pass a resolution, I can do that, and I think that we would be successful in doing that. But, if every one of the Council members were willing to do a public poll right now, to say that if I do that you will vote down the casino, I'd be more than happy to," replied Chirico.

Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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