Guest post: what value is there in a casino?

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The following is the text of a presentation made to Kitchener Council on April 30th regarding the proposal to bring a casino to the Region.  It was made by the House of Friendship’s executive director, John Neufeld.

photo via flikr

photo via flikr

Good evening Chair, members of council and community members. My name is John Neufeld and I have the privilege of serving as the Executive Director of House of Friendship, a local social service charity.  As a leading provider in this community of poverty relief and substance addiction treatment services, House of Friendship is committed to speaking up on behalf of the more than 42,000 people we serve each year.

With this in mind, the Board of Directors of House of Friendship endorses the position paper of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council  – their balanced analysis of research (available as a .pdf here) clearly weighs the evidence. And their conclusions are consistent with independent analysis on this matter: “The negative impact of a casino on the broader community is much clearer in public health research’’.  Of note, the same risk factors for crime, that the data demonstrate increase with the presence of a casino, are some of the same social determinants of health that we deal with when fighting poverty.

I am here this evening to ask that this Council share House of Friendship’s commitment to a healthy community where all can belong and thrive; put to rest any notion of hosting a casino in Kitchener or supporting one in a neighbouring community.

House of Friendship has listened.  We have attended the Chamber of Commerce event at which the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation shared its vision and have read the opinion pieces of those wishing to bring a casino here.  Admittedly, these comments paint a tempting scenario of easy revenue and abundant jobs, although this rose-coloured view is being increasingly challenged.

Nonetheless, House of Friendship understands all too well the value of new revenue and employment.  However, we appreciate more, revenue that is not generated at the expense of our neighbours and we value more, good jobs, jobs that sustain families.   If the OLG is committed to the well-being of its employees it would readily adopt healthy labour structures and a Living Wage for all casino employees.  If a casino comes to this community, is the OLG and partners prepared to make these commitments in addition to following and funding the harm reduction recommendations of the Crime Prevention’s position paper?

Because rest assured, the evidence is clear, regardless of the location there is a cost to casinos, and while it may not be one measured on the balance sheets of developers and on the books of the OLG, it is measured by the number of people seeking emergency food assistance, shelter, or treatment to manage addictions and rebuild lives and families.

I remind you that last year the provincial government, among other funding cuts, significantly reduced its support for Discretionary Benefits, the very funding that assists those most vulnerable. If it were not for the Regional Council of Waterloo filling most of the funding gap, emergency food assistance would have been decimated this year.  As it is, the funding was an interim measure.

We find it unacceptable that funding for basic services is in jeopardy while the OLG pushes ahead with a gaming strategy that will undoubtedly increase demand on these same services while building provincial revenue and leaving municipalities to foot the bill.

So let’s be clear.  If this Council invites a casino to this community, any part of this community, then you need also to have a plan for funding Discretionary benefits and like services.  Where are the business plans that factor in the costs of such funding? And where are the business plans that address the costs to our community of lives and families torn apart by poverty and addiction, be it gambling or substance use?

Our pro-gaming friends would have us believe that these are acceptable costs, costs that can be addressed by the proceeds of gambling. Yet, when we set aside a few high profile large-scale projects, what do the average local charities actually receive? a drop in the bucket, certainly not enough to maintain adequate levels of quality services. That burden will fall to you and to every tax payer in this Region.

You know, House of Friendship like many charities, must fundraise to fulfill its mission.  One of the first things you learn in fundraising is that there is no ‘golden egg’, no matter what the marketing tries to sell you.  Besides, haven’t we all heard and learned from the expression, if it sounds too good to be true, then it is. Then why are we so willing to suspend evidenced-based decision-making when it comes to casinos?

This community was not built on desperate measures and taking the easy way out.  It was built on hard work and community values.  This is what has stood us in good stead, and this is what will continue to best serve our community and see us thrive.

Thank you.

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