A Casino in Peterborough?

City council is gambling with Peterborough's future

Do the benefits of a casino outweigh the drawbacks?
Do the benefits of a casino outweigh the drawbacks?

What would you call a casino in Peterborough?

Casino Peterborough? Casino By The Lake?

Judging from public response, a lot of people in Peterborough would call it a bad idea.

It’s no secret that casinos are money-making machines: they rake in massive profits day after day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday or a Sunday, February or August, Christmas or Easter — casinos keep rolling forward like a financial tank.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to having a casino in your community.

Supporters of casinos will boast that they have no effect on crime, inject huge funds into the local economy, and create hundreds of jobs.

Opponents will tell you that they do increase crime, enable addiction, and sell the soul of a community for dollars and cents.

But what’s the truth?

In 2005, research was conducted at an up-and-coming school that you may have heard of called Harvard. Researchers studied the effects casinos had on the communities in which they were located.

What they found was that, while casinos created jobs, population growth in casino communities basically nullified any employment growth. So, while adding 600 jobs in a casino may sound like a great local achievement, the number of people moving to that community to work at the casino causes the unemployment rate to remain unchanged.

The researchers also found that personal bankruptcies in casino communities rose about 10 per cent and that the number increased in more populated areas. It’s easy to surmise that this is likely the result of addictive gambling.

If you’re excited by the idea of $4 to $5 million dollars in revenue going into the pockets of the city, then here’s another stat for you: researchers found that spending on infrastructure in casino communities hardly increased at all (less than 2 per cent). Also, keep in mind that Peterborough’s budget for 2013 is $275.6 million and the casino revenue-sharing would cover less than 2 per cent of that.

When it comes to crime, the Harvard researchers found that the number of criminal acts did increase in casino communities, but per capita crime actually decreased because of population growth. So there’s more crime but also more people.

The above facts are black and white; tangible data from real research. But what really has people in a tizzy are the intangibles.

There are people who think casinos are a lot of fun and who would visit them on a regular basis. But the same could be said about prostitutes. There are people who think they’re a lot of fun and who would visit them on a regular basis — but at the end of the day that doesn’t make it the right choice ethically.

It’s a council’s job to do what’s best for the city. They need to make tough decisions that not everyone agrees with. The decision that’s yet to be made on the Peterborough casino is destined to become one of those polarizing decisions.

But what a lot of voters are hoping for is due process that considers their opinions during decision making. Sadly, what most voters are expecting — based on recent decisions regarding artificial turf and a downtown drug store — is exclusion from the process.

People are wondering what’s next in the casino saga. It seems there’s a chance that this is all for naught. OLG may decide to keep the facility at Kawartha Downs and not have a casino in Peterborough at all. Whatever OLG’s decision ends up being, I challenge Peterborough’s City Council to include all of us in a real way and not sidestep people’s opinions like they have done so often before.

If Council is on repeat and neglects to include the concerns of voters, I’d like to remind them that two and a half years ago that a third of the city’s voters showed up at the polls and only 12 per cent of the entire population actually voted for Mayor Bennett.

This may be assumption on my part but I imagine that, when voters line up next year to decide who runs our city, there’ll be an option on the ballot for someone who represents those of us who’ve felt ignored — and it’s my guess that this candidate will get more than 12 per cent of the vote.

This is the first of two articles by Pat Trudeau on the debate about a casino in Peterborough. Read the second one here.