Loto-Quebec ‘surprised’ at Montreal Public Health reaction to mini casino proposal

Concerns have been raised over the provincial gaming authority's plans due to potential RG risks

Montreal Public Health has poured cold water on the idea of Loto-Quebec opening a ‘mini casino’ near the Bell Centre, citing the “risk” for vulnerable members of society nearby.

Loto-Quebec’s plans to rent the now closed 1909 Taverne Moderne restaurant – which adjoins the home of the Montreal Canadiens – to house a number of gaming machines, sport betting terminals and poker tables was detailed back in February, with CEO Jean-Francois Bergeron confirming that talks were taking place.

During the initial discussions, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plant said the mini casino would require the approval of Montreal Public Health, which rejected a similar proposal from the provincial gaming authority in Griffintown in 2006.

But judging by the authority’s recent comments, approval looks unlikely any time soon.

In an interview with La Presse, Mylène Drouin, Montreal Public Health Director, explained: “We did a complete risk analysis. And we arrive at a solid conclusion: the project as presented presents risks to the health of the population, risks sufficient to prevent us from recommending this project.”

The mini casino is part of a partnership between Loto-Quebec and Groupe CH, the entity that owns the Montreal Canadiens.

Under the proposed plan, Loto-Quebec would install 350 slot machines whilst removing approximately 600 video lottery machines elsewhere on the island.

But in a 42-page report critiquing the potential impact of setting up a mini casino near the Bell Centre, Montreal Public Health came to the conclusion that it would target men between the ages of 18-44 who are “particularly vulnerable” when it comes to gambling addictions.

“The Loto-Québec project is likely to reach and introduce a significant number of vulnerable players to the game with the associated impacts on health that we know about,” said researcher Jean-François Biron, who wrote his opinion with the collaboration of other renowned researchers, notably Sylvia Kairouz, from Concordia University, and Annie-Claude Savard, from Université Laval.

“It’s a project that can encourage an introduction to the game,” added Drouin. “All the packaging that goes into this show can send a false sense of security to the people who are going to play.”

Furthermore, according to Montreal Public Health, a games lounge associated with the Montreal Canadiens environment establishes a “dynamic of normalization” of games of chance and money.

The report stated: “This is because a large proportion of the Montreal population, all generations combined, worship the team, some of whose players have left their mark on history.

“The Bell Centre is also an important popular gathering space for culture and entertainment. In this context, it is highly likely that more individuals will learn about electronic gaming devices in this establishment.”

As well as refusing to recommend such a proposal, Montreal Public Health has also advised Loto-Quebec “to continue reducing the number of ALV sites as observed since 2017 in Montreal by ceasing to grant operating permits for video lottery machines”.

However, the body’s decision to issue the report to the media has not gone down well with Loto-Quebec, whose spokesperson Renaud Dugas responded in a press release.

He said: “We are surprised that Montreal public health decided to send its report and grant interviews to journalists rather than to the main interested party, Loto-Québec.

“We are also surprised since we have been collaborating with the DRSP Montreal on this file for two years, even before the project was submitted. She also praised our transparency from the first meetings.

“We answered all his questions and we were always available to answer his questions and concerns.”

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