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Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Urges Caution on Casino

Report released on the potential negative effects of expanded gambling.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/2842251766/"}Phil Marion{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Today Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, released his analysis of the implications of opening a full-fledged casino in Toronto, focusing on concerns around problem gambling. “Any decision on whether to expand gambling access in Toronto,” he writes, “must adequately weigh the potential negative health impacts.”

To that end, he has compiled a list of recommendations for minimizing the risks of problem gambling.

Toronto should, in his view:

  • Limit the hours of operation, so a casino would be open at most 18 hours a day.
  • Restrict the number of slot machines and slow down the speed of play on them.
  • Require designated areas for alcohol service, and ensure there are some areas where alcohol is not available.
  • Eliminate casino loyalty programs, which provide frequent visitors with rewards (for instance, free hotel rooms for big spenders).
  • Prohibit ATMs on gaming floors, and prohibit casino credit and holding accounts.
  • Reduce maximum bet sizes, and impose daily loss maximums.
  • Implement strong casino self-exclusion programs.
  • Require a casino to issue monthly statements to its visitors which show their losses and frequency of play, and which compares those figures to the median.

Current Ontario practices conflict with some of these recommendations, so the OLG would need to agree to restrict some of its policies, at least in Toronto. Presumably any casino operator will lobby against the proposals, as they would reduce potential earnings.

McKeown’s recommendations will be debated at the next meeting of Toronto’s Board of Health, on November 19. He has asked that the report on the potential health effects of a casino be included in the information that is provided as part of a public consultation process which will be launching soon; the Board of Health will decide whether to make that request of the City Manager at its meeting.

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