Those looking for a debate on casinos may just get one, and Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr wants that discussion to happen at the regional horseshoe. Kitchener council, along with neighbouring city councils in Waterloo and Cambridge, have already told the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation in no uncertain terms: they’re not interested. However, Woolwich Township and Mayor Todd Cowan have left the door open a crack, despite longtime opposition to one-armed bandits in that rural area.
It seems a potential $4 million in direct economic benefit to the municipalities has Woolwich and others chasing the carrot provided by the OLG. The Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce is also interested, and invited OLG President and CEO Rod Phillips to talk about the plan to bring up to 1,200 slots and 55 gaming tables to the local community.
The argument is that it will bring jobs and economic spinoffs to the region while providing a revenue source for a cash-strapped municipality. It has the potential to bring tourism as well, and gives momentum to the idea of building a convention centre. But those glowing projections don’t shine a light on the social ills that come with problem gambling and the costs to the region’s social services and policing. And are the jobs stable? Niagara casinos offered buyout packages to 92 employees last week. The fact that OLG is trying to roll out casino gaming across the province might also mute the impact on tourism. If they are everywhere, why come here? Most of the revenue generated could be from local gamers, taking money from the restaurants and entertainment venues the region already offers.
Zehr doesn’t think one municipality should get to decide for the rest, and have everyone pick up the bill. And it will be an expensive bill to pay.