A letter by the McMaster Department of Psychiatry warns about the potential for negative health impacts from a new downtown casino.
By RTH Staff
Published February 06, 2013
this article has been updated
The chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at the DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University has sent Hamilton City Council a letter to "express our concern at the possibility that a casino could be built in Hamilton's downtown core."
The letter, which is dated February 6, 2013, warns that the evidence indicates a new downtown casino would "likely result in an increase in the prevalence of problem gambling" with negative impacts that include "depression, anxiety, and suicide, as well as crime, dysfunctional relationships, and bankruptcy."
The letter concludes that Council must weigh the potential economic benefits against the potential for "an impact on the health and wellbeing of our community for years to come."
Following is the full text of the letter.
February 6th. 2013
To Mayor Bratina and members of Hamilton City Council:
On behalf of McMaster University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, I am writing to express our concern at the possibility that a casino could be built in Hamilton's downtown core. This concern is based upon the experience of many other communities who found that the opening of a casino led to an increase in the number of people with a gambling problem (currently estimated to be 15,000 in Hamilton), which in turn led to mental health problems, family breakdown and financial hardship for many of these individuals.
A comprehensive review of the current evidence by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto identified the harmful effects on individuals who are vulnerable to a gambling problem included depression, anxiety, and suicide, as well as crime, dysfunctional relationships, and bankruptcy. They added that "increased availability or accessibility of gambling ... will likely result in an increase in the prevalence of problem gambling."
This is borne out by studies in other communities that show that easier access to gambling facilities increases the number of people presenting for treatment of a gambling problem, with people who are recovering from previous problems with gambling being especially vulnerable. Indeed, one US Study found that the likelihood of being a problem gambler doubles for someone living within 16 miles of a casino, while the experience in Halifax, Detroit and St. Louis has been that rather than stimulating new development, the presence of a casino leads to decay in adjacent neighbourhoods.
In both Toronto and Hamilton, Public Health Departments have expressed concern that the increased availability or accessibility of gambling will likely result in an increase in the numbers of problem gamblers. Moreover, in a recent report to the Hamilton Board of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, our Medical Officer of Health, opined that "the construction of a casino would be detrimental to the well-being of our community and particularly to people with low incomes and those who are prone to addiction."
Although there may be some economic benefits deriving from a new casino, there is clear and consistent evidence from other communities that highlight the potential damage the arrival of a casino can cause to individuals, families and communities. It is for this reason that almost every mental health, addictions and healthcare organization in Hamilton has expressed its concerns about, or opposition to the establishment of a casino in downtown Hamilton. We would therefore urge you to consider this evidence very carefully before making your decision, as the decision you make will have an impact on the health and wellbeing of our community for years to come.
Nick Kates MBBS FRCPC MCFP (hon)
Acting Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences
Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine
Update: The title and description for this article erroneously stated that the letter was from the McMaster School of Medicine. In fact it is from the Department of Psychiatry. RTH regrets the error.
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