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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Gambling - Toronto taking chances with the public's health

When someone comes along and announces $3 Billion in development, heads will turn.  It is in the fine print that the centrepiece of the development is a new casino for downtown Toronto.  Vancouver, Montreal and other major cities have recently debated the relative harms and benefits of expanded access to gambling and its health consequences. 

For provinces the addiction to revenues from gambling is in the billions and reflects other sin taxes and fossil fuel incomes that support a diverse range of social and health programming. Reducing such incomes means either increasing revenue from other sources like taxation, or cutting programs.  Moreover, the dependence on gambling revenues is sufficiently scared that advocacy efforts opposing expansion of the industry, research on reducing harms and efforts are prevention are actively discouraged.

Hidden deep inside the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse is a good resource with links to existing data on gambling CCSA weblinks.   Oddly, becomes gambling income is a provincial revenue source, national information is more readily accessible through credible groups like Statistics Canada.  Hidden is that gambling amounts increased from the early 1990’s when casinos became more widely abundant, though to the last five years where total revenues have leveled out. The Stats Can report includes the following graphics. 

Gambling can be typed into gaming activities like bingo; lotteries; paramutual betting like horseracing; casinos and slots; video lottery terminals (VLTs); and on-line gaming.  The graphics represent a good sense of the shifting gambling dollar.   Provincially, gambling increase going west.   The coalition of gaming research organization production from 2012 provides an excellent resource on the current utilization of gambling in Canada Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling.  Safety in numbers through collective sharing of statistics, but also an excellent example of comparative data between provinces which is sometimes challenging to find for other health issues. 

Hidden deep in these documents is the consistent identification of 2% of the adult population have problem gambling issues.  Problem gambling is known to be associated with financial problems, relationship difficulties, violence, and suicide. Although, an Alberta study suggests that gambling is not the risk for health outcomes, but merely a covariant – similar to early work on smoking and health UAlberta economics study on gambling and health

The successful work on defraying the impacts of casino expansion in Vancouver might form an excellent model in public health advocacy for the wellbeing of the community, if one could only find solid documentation still posted on-line. Publication bias remains a significant barrier to putting the public’s health centre stage in the debates.

Good luck Toronto. Hopefully Toronto Public Health will provide outstanding leadership on an uncomfortable topic. 

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