Loto-Québec’s plan to open a mini-casino near the Bell Center was devised by gambling addiction experts

According to Loto-Québec, the plan is still in its infancy, but the agency is looking into opening a small casino near where the Canadians play.  (Simon Nakonechny/CBC - photo credit)

According to Loto-Québec, the plan is still in its infancy, but the agency is looking into opening a small casino near where the Canadians play. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC – photo credit)

Loto-Québec intends to open a new facility near Montreal’s Bell Center with potentially hundreds of slot machines and sportsbooks, but the plan raises concerns among gambling experts.

Accessibility and availability are linked to problem gambling, according to Jeff Derevensky, director of the International Center for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.

“Now the vast majority of people aren’t problem gamblers, but if you give them the opportunity, some people will develop a gambling problem,” said Derevensky, who is also chair of the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill University.

Loto-Québec declined CBC’s interview request Wednesday, but a spokesman confirmed the discussion has been going on for several months.

The aim is to rent the now-closed 1909 Tavern Moderne, a former bar on Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montréal.

If the project goes through, Loto-Québec would run the space with food and games, the spokesman said, adding that no further comment would be made.

However, Loto-Québec CEO Jean-François Bergeron gave an interview to radio station 98.5 FM on Wednesday, in which he said the idea was to lure the Bell Center’s clientele.

Creating the perfect storm

But Derevensky said setting up a mini-casino in the downtown core could attract a vulnerable population.

“You have a perfect storm here that will bring a casino to the core downtown. In an area that’s highly visible and easily accessible, and you’re going to attract quite a lot of people,” he said.

According to a 2017 Montreal Public Health study, the neighborhood surrounding the Bell Center already has a population more prone to problem gambling.

This isn’t the first attempt to bring a casino to the island. In 2006, Cirque du Soleil and Loto-Québec were forced to abandon plans to build a casino in the Peel Basin after community backlash.

As for building a mini-casino next to the Bell Centre, Loto-Québec says the plan is still in the embryonic stages and more details will be released as it develops.

The government awaits the decision from public health

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard said on Wednesday that the government would only accept the proposal if public health agreed.

The other condition would be that the total number of slot machines in Montreal be reduced before the mini-casino opens.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she also wants public health to weigh before any plan is approved. She said she would also like to evaluate the proposal more closely herself.

“They want to make sure there’s social acceptance, and I also agree with that because it’s a big project,” Plante said, noting that she’s aware it could have an impact on already vulnerable populations.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Sylvia Kairouz is Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University. She also holds the Research Chair in Gambling.

She said having a casino next to the Bell Center where Canadians play puts these slot machines in a positive light.

She said research shows that 70 percent of slots revenue comes from just 3 percent of gamblers — typically problem gamblers.

“These machines are no ordinary commodity,” Kairouz said. “They are harmful.”

She said some researchers talked about how slot machines “were designed to create addiction.”

Derevensky quoted a quote from the 1989 film: field of dreams with Kevin Costner: “If you build it, they will come.”

“And so you’re going to have more people, a larger population of people involved with slot machines,” he said.

“You’re going to have a captive audience that’s at the Bell Center — particularly young men who are very interested in betting on sports.”


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