The proposed casino to be built next to B.C. Place is a bad idea, according to the lead author of an addiction-policy paper released last spring by the B.C. Medical Association.
Dr. Shao-Hua Lu, an addictions psychiatrist with Vancouver General Hospital, warned that the location of the gambling facility announced by the province on March 26 is worrisome.
“People obviously say that if you put a casino anywhere, people will drive there,” Lu told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Absolutely, there is no doubt in my mind that will happen. But the ease where it’s near to a sporting event, it creates greater association between a normally nongambling event such as sports and gambling. I think that is potentially problematic.”
In Stepping Forward: Improving Addiction Care in British Columbia, Lu and his coauthors noted that almost one in 10 people in the province, or about 400,000 people, suffer from some form of addiction, excluding dependence on tobacco.
They wrote that 128,000 British Columbians have a “moderate gambling problem”, while 31,000 have a “severe gambling problem”.
“The number of people in BC with a severe gambling problem has increased since 2002 from 0.4% of the population to 0.9% in 2007,” the authors stated, citing provincial-government data.
In conversation, Lu, who is also a UBC psychiatry instructor, expressed concern that the new casino will induce gambling among young people for whom sports are an important aspect of their development.
“Bringing it into a place where young people worship their sports heroes, it might lead to early entrance to gambling,” he said.
Lu explained that the new casino would be more accessible than the Grand Villa Casino off Highway 1 in Burnaby or the River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, or even the Edgewater Casino at Vancouver’s Plaza of Nations, which the proposed facility would replace.
“Young people are not likely to go to the Edgewater or the Burnaby casino or anywhere else,” he said. “You don’t get that same kind of exposure.
“Like alcohol, the earlier an individual starts using the substance or involving in gambling, the greater the likelihood that the individual will develop long-term alcohol-related or gambling-related problems. Given how the downtown core is really a younger-individual community, it lowers the barriers for entrance,” Lu added.
According to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, which regulates all gambling in the province, about 4.6 percent of the population has problems due to compulsive gambling.
In a prevalence study released in 2008, the branch noted that at this level, B.C. has the highest proportion of “problem gamblers” among a group of seven provinces.
The paper cited the following problem-gambling estimates in other provinces: Manitoba (3.4 percent), Ontario (3.4 percent), Quebec (1.7 percent), Newfoundland (3.4 percent), Prince Edward Island (1.6 percent), and Nova Scotia (2.1 percent).
However, the same study also pointed out that “gambling participation” in the province is on the decline. It noted that 73 percent of British Columbians reported that they had participated in at least one gambling activity in the previous 12 months, which is 12 percent lower than the 85 percent recorded in 2002.
The document also noted that many studies suggest the increased availability of gambling opportunities leads to higher levels of problem gambling.
This is a matter Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang is well aware of. At a future date, council will decide whether to approve the zoning application by Paragon Development Ltd. to develop a 680,000-square-foot entertainment complex west of B.C. Place Stadium, which will encompass the casino and two hotels.
A professor of psychiatry, Jang, who teaches at the UBC school of medicine, noted that the “scientific literature is pretty clear”.
“Exposure is related to addictions, whether it be alcohol or anything,” Jang told the Straight in a phone interview. “For me, what I have to look at is at what point do we allow people to gamble who want to gamble, versus what point does a casino”¦actually start to promote health-and-welfare issues. Those are the two things I have to balance.”
But until he sees the details of the casino application, Jang is reserving judgment.