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PAC hears opposition to racetrack, slots

Don Fudge, of Nipissing Entertainment, addresses the Planning and Advisory Committee Wednesday night. Photo by Phil Novak.

Don Fudge, of Nipissing Entertainment, addresses the Planning and Advisory Committee Wednesday night. Photo by Phil Novak.

A Planning Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday turned into an anti-gambling forum.

The committee was looking at an application from Nipissing Entertainment to convert a 40-hectare piece of property it owns on Birch’s Road, near Lakeshore Drive, from Industrial Holding to Industrial Commercial Special.

Other ideas
A change in the zoning would allow Nipissing to build a harness racing track and slots facility

But while the meeting was supposed to look at the application strictly from a land-use perspective, the 75 or so residents who attended had other ideas despite being asked to limit their comments to planning issues.

A new anti-gambling group also appears to have sprouted up. Flyers from Citizens Against Gambling Expansion were available in the city council chamber, where the meeting took place.

Negative way
Nipissing Entertainment vice president Don Fudge gave the first presentation, saying the track and slots operation would create over 400 jobs, increase tourism, and bring $250,000 a year in tax revenue to North Bay, as well as five per cent of anticipated slot revenues, about $1.6 million annually.

Strathcona Drive resident Charles Campbell followed soon after Fudge, mixing planning and gambling concerns in his presentation.

The financial impact of a gaming facility on North Bay would be “substantial,” Campbell said, and in a negative way.

“Friends and neighbours will have to hand out over $32 million so the city can realize $1.6 million in return,” Campbell.

“Is that sound financing?”

Financial loss
As well, Campbell said, parents from outside North Bay might not send their children to Nipissing University or Canadore College if they knew a gambling facility was in the city.

"This in turn will have a profound effect in enrollment, and will be a great financial loss to our city," Campbell said.

"Our young people 18 to 24," Campbell added, top the list "of the 10,000 in Ontario every year" who become addicted to gambling.

Campbell worried the race track and slots facility would increase traffic on Lakeshore and put a strain on sewer and water infrastructure.

Dieing industry
Theresa Evans was also concerned about increased traffic and said she feared what the race track could mean for the area.

“It will attract gamblers and there will be increased crime, with an increased risk of kidnapping and child pornography,” Evans said.

Callander resident Meg Purdy said race tracks are “a dieing industry.”

“They can only survive with slots,” she said.

Anti-gambling activist Bill Clark said gambling marketers were trying to make the activity seem more benign by referring to it as ‘gaming.’

Multiple accesses
Fudge said Nipissing has developed the Bet Smart program to combat problem gambling.

The program includes a public education campaign, staff training programs, free public seminars on problem gambling, and a self-exclusion program to deny access to the race
track for anyone who identifies themselves as having a problem.

On the planning end of things, Fudge addressed traffic and infrastructure concerns.

The race track will have multiple accesses from the Nipissing junction exit off the highway onto Lakeshore Drive, Fudge said.

“There’s an unopened road allowance we propose to use up the east side of the property, and of course we’ll have additional access from Ferris Drive for buses and tour operators, and there will be additional access from Birch’s Road, which will be available to the horse trailers directly to the barns,” Fudge said.

“Interestingly the traffic associated with the track will be at times of the day that are not coincident with our current traffic periods. Therefore while we will have more traffic it will be spread out.”

More than adequate
Fudge said too that he’s talked to the city’s engineering department about sewer and water capacity.

“The indication that we get is that all of the existing services are more than adequate to handle this facility,” Fudge said.

“The underground services were designed for an industrial park which still has a lot of capacity in it, and by hooking up to the sewer and water it’s an advantage to us and an advantage to the city.”

Ample opportunity
Coun. Dave Mendicino, a member of the advisory committee, said residents opposed to gambling will have “ample opportunity” to make their views known to council.

“At the end of the day, the issue of gambling, the issue of whether this is going to go forward is an issue that has to fall on council,” Mendicino said.

A report on the race track proposal will be prepared by the city’s planning department and be ready early in the new year.

Mendicino said there will also be one more public meeting on the application before the matters goes to council for a final decision.