The president of the B.C. Medical Association is echoing concerns raised by a regional health officer last week about the potential impacts of casino expansion on problem gambling.
Dr. Ian Gillespie said there is “serious concern” about posing a risk of new cases of problem gambling in the population.
Dr. John Carsley, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, surprised city councillors at a public hearing last Tuesday (March 8) when he appeared as the last speaker of the evening to caution the city on the uncertainty around the impacts of gambling expansion on public health.
While Carsley told councillors that the data on the potential impact of casino expansion on problem gambling are contradictory, he recommended in a written report to council that they reject a proposal to expand Edgewater Casino to three times its current size.
Gillespie said while his board has not discussed the Edgewater Casino project in particular, he supports taking a cautionary approach to gambling expansion in the province.
“Addictions are brain disorders,” said Gillespie. “These are serious incurable illnesses that are subject to relapse, but they are treatable. What we want to do is try and prevent them in the first place, and preventing exposure is one aspect of that.”
Gillespie also echoed concerns raised by Carsley about the disparity in resources allocated to problem gambling research and treatment in B.C., compared to other provinces.
According to Carsley, B.C. spends the equivalent of $1.49 per adult on problem gambling and the promotion of responsible gambling, compared to a national average of $3.69 per adult.
“It’s fairly recently that the health implications have been recognized and the available treatment programs have not caught up with that,” said Gillespie. “I’ve seen patients who’ve had difficulty accessing programs or staying in the programs when they would benefit from longer treatment because of the resource shortages.”
Gillespie added that research indicates children's exposure to gambling through their parents may put them at increased risk of developing a gambling problem later in life.
“I think it’s important that there be some research that’s undertaken so we can understand the risks and reduce the risks, especially for our youth,” he said.
B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, is also supporting Carsley’s report, which he called “thorough".
“I think the recommendation is based on good evidence and based on sound public health principles, and it’s one consideration for the city to look at when they consider the expansion of the casino proposal,” Kendall told the Straight.
Council has heard the prevalence rate of problem gambling among the B.C. adult population is 4.6 percent, with severe problem gambling affecting about 1 percent of the population.
Carsley told councillors that the potential risks of casino expansion on problem gambling are unequally distributed among the population, with youth, low-income residents, aboriginal people, and people with mental health and substance abuse problems more at risk of developing a gambling problem.
In addition to recommending that the proposal be rejected, Carsley also suggested in his report that the casino operator’s contribution to the city’s social responsibility fund be increased in proportion to any revenue increase at its current or expanded location.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation’s problem gambling programs include advisory centres at all B.C. casinos, a toll-free help line, counselling services for groups considered the most at risk, and a voluntary self-exclusion program.
Public hearings into the proposed relocation and expansion of Edgewater Casino at a rezoned site next to B.C. Place will resume today (March 14) at 6:30 p.m.
The proposed 800,000-square-foot development would include two hotels, restaurants and stores, and the casino floor would be expanded to include 1,500 slot machines.
Council has now heard from about 30 speakers, including both proponents and opponents of the project, with approximately another 150 people still scheduled to speak.