Cityplace casino will be a mixed blessing

There was a time when Eaton Place, as Cityplace mall was once known, was a vibrant downtown shopping centre popular with teens from all over the city for its arcade, food court, cinema and music and fashion stores.

That might seem difficult to believe for those who weren’t at least teen-aged in the ’80s. While it remains a reasonably popular lunch spot for downtown office workers and offers a few basic conveniences, like a pharmacy and an ATM, Cityplace has a funny way of looking dreary even when it’s busy, and grubby even when it’s clean.

For a time it seemed destined to share the same fate as many dying malls: a few half-hearted attempts at repurposing prior to disappearing completely.

Yet the 33-year-old shopping centre might have just received a significant shot in the arm, with today’s announcement that a new casino — ahem, high-end gaming centre and sports bar — would open on Cityplace’s second floor this coming spring.

The new casino — I’m frankly not sure what else to honestly call a facility that will offer “140 slot machines, two poker tables and four black jack tables” — will be owned by True North Sports and Entertainment, and operated by Manitoba Lotteries. An undisclosed part of the proceeds will go to True North, and will be an important revenue stream for the Winnipeg Jets.

The new privately owned but government-blessed casino will be even more accessible than Club Regent, McPhillips Station or South Beach Casino to a wide variety of customers with a limited financial cushion — students, recent immigrants, social assistance recipients in nearby Manitoba Housing buildings, and pensioners — which will make its impact very much a matter of public interest.

A 2011 report for the Canadian Consortium for Gambling Research, of which the Manitoba Gaming Control Commission is a member, assessed that impact by carefully looking at studies conducted across Canada and throughout the world. As the following extract from pages 56 and 57 of their report shows, casinos are a mixed blessing for a community:

  • Casinos are more reliably related to increased government revenue and increased public services because they tend to generate more revenue than other forms of gambling.

  • Casinos have reliably increased government regulatory costs associated with them.

  • Casinos are one of only two forms of gambling (the other being horse racing) that reliably increases infrastructure value.

  • Casinos are the only form of gambling that sometimes have associated infrastructure costs.

  • Casinos are the only form of gambling that have potential to positively impact property values.

  • Casinos have greater addiction potential because they offer continuous forms of gambling (EGMs and casino table games), and thus are more reliably associated with increased rates of problem gambling and related indices when they are first introduced.

  • Casinos have a higher potential for increasing crime than other forms of gambling because they contribute more to problem gambling (and therefore problem-gambling related crime), because they provide additional opportunities for crime (e.g., money laundering, passing counterfeit money), because of the clientele they attract, and because they serve alcohol. Even so, the actual impacts on crime tend to be mixed, and the impacts, when they occur, are usually not large.

  • Casinos, like most other forms of gambling, are economically regressive.

  • Casinos have relatively little impact on overall leisure behaviour because they are patronized by the minority of the population.

  • Casinos contribute toward somewhat more negative attitudes toward gambling (depending on the jurisdiction and the specific group being surveyed).

  • As mentioned, when casinos generate significant economic benefits to an impoverished community, then the quality of life for its residents is reliably improved. Aside from this situation, no population-wide changes are usually found [ . . . ] A caveat to this general lack of impact on quality of life is that the small minority of people who are heavy casino gamblers will usually have poorer mental health and that the negative mental health of these individuals likely has some negative impact on their families. However, as mentioned earlier, the introduction of casinos is only partly responsible for the observed rates of problem gambling and therefore only partly responsible for these wider family impacts. Another caveat is that there is at least one study finding casinos to have psychological benefits for seniors (271).

Source: Robert J. Williams, Jurgen Rehm and Rhys M. G. Stevens, The Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling. Published by the Canadian Consortium for Gambling Research, 2011, pp. 56-57.

* – “EGMs” is an acronym for “Electronic Gambling Machines”.

Many will be pleased that a troubled shopping centre is getting a makeover and that the Jets will be a little more financially secure, both thanks to the new Cityplace casino. But the potential downsides cannot be easily dismissed in a city and province already overwhelmed by social problems so severe that it is truly amazing they haven’t boiled over into a summer of civil unrest.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

4 Responses to Cityplace casino will be a mixed blessing

  1. TRex says:

    It may not be easily reconciled with the supposed benefits of a casino and legalized gambling in general but I think it speaks to the data bases used. This is an old industrial axiom, “the solution to pollution is dilution.”

    The house always wins and the cost upon society is hard to quantify, but whatever it is society at large (taxpayers) will bear the brunt of it.

    It’s kind of an amoral calculation to my mind. Like monetizing addiction and misery.

    Just my two cents.

  2. As a member of an arts group which receives funding through the income generated in this manner, I had to volunteer a few evenings at McPhillips Station. I often heard people saying “I need to win to pay my rent.”

    You’re right about the targeted victims who live in the area: students, recent immigrants, social assistance recipients in nearby Manitoba Housing buildings, and pensioners.

    Why aren’t these things kept in neighbourhoods where people can afford the loss?

  3. Robert Dean says:

    “Why aren’t these things kept in neighbourhoods where people can afford the loss?”

    You think geography is going to stop a problem gambler from losing it all? LOL
    You don’t understand sick gamblers very well if that’s the case. They *will* find a way to lose it.

  4. Yer Pal says:

    I’m just happy to hear there’s another place to go drinkin’!

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