Loto-Québec’s efforts to set up a mini casino near the Bell Centre have been cancelled after a Montréal Public Health report deemed the project a “bad idea.”
Specifically, public health officials believe a gaming centre with ties to the Montréal Canadiens could “normalize” gambling for at-risk fans.
Late Tuesday, Loto-Québec announced it was withdrawing its plan to open the mini casino.
In a press release, the provincial lottery agency said:
“Although Loto-Québec respects the Direction générale de la santé publique’s position, it does believe this was a missed opportunity. Responsible marketing practices — like introducing a range of entertainment options designed to encourage social interaction and provide a safe, responsible environment for gambling — would have been implemented.”
Loto-Québec had planned to install 350 slot machines near Bell Centre
Loto-Québec had planned to rent the now closed 1909 Taverne Moderne and fill it with 350 slot machines. Here, Habs fans would have had direct access to the multi-storey building located within a minute’s walk from Centre Bell.
Had the project gone ahead, Loto-Québec planned to reduce the city’s number of video lottery terminals by 20%. Altogether, approximately 600 machines, including about 160 in the downtown area, would have been removed.
The provincial gaming authority’s plan with Canadiens’ ownership to install a new Québec casino has now been scrapped.
Mini-Casino brings too much risk, says public health director
Accessibility, association, and location.
These were the title themes in Montréal Public Health’s nearly 40-page report detailing the potential harms associated with opening a gaming facility adjacent to the home of the Habs.
In particular, the report says a casino at that location would target men between the ages of 18 and 44. According to the governing entity’s research, this demographic is especially vulnerable when it comes to gambling addictions.
Dr. Mylène Drouin, the director of Montreal Public Health, believes this project, and its association with a pro sports franchise, carries an increased risk for initiation to gaming.
“We see that this project does optimize the access and does normalize gaming activities, and it is a really important risk for initiation of young adults, mainly young men to gaming activities.
“Joining with a brand that is really accepted and glorified, we know that it normalizes and gives a sense of security where it is not secure,” said Drouin. “We’re talking about a product that is quite dangerous.”
In February, Quebec’s Finance Minister Eric Girard said the government would only accept the proposal if Québec Public Health approves. Montreal’s unit sent their report to those provincial public health authorities for review a couple weeks back.
Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Girard declined CBC’s request for comment on the findings of Montréal Public Health’s report.
Loto-Québec puzzled by nature of Drouin’s statements
For Loto-Québec, which spent multiple years on the project, the nature of Drouin’s public statements was surprising.
“We are stunned that Montreal Public Health would decide to send its report — and grant interviews — to journalists, instead of the main party concerned, Loto-Québec,” said Loto-Québec spokesperson Renaud Dugas in a statement.
“We’re especially surprised given that we’ve been working with Montreal Public Health on this matter for two years.”
On the contrary, Drouin says that because she handed in the report to the Québec government six weeks ago. Forwarding it to Loto-Québec was not her responsibility.
Loto-Québec CEO: “We are disappointed that the project isn’t going through”
Loto-Québec also took umbrage with the lack of interest in its proposal to remove nearly 600 VLT’s city-wide.
“We’re convinced that revamping our land-based model would allow us to better meet today’s challenges and needs,” said Loto-Québec president and CEO Jean-François Bergeron in a statement. “Not doing anything does not amount to a solution. Neither does reducing supply without providing new options to meet player demand.
“By no means does Loto-Québec’s future rest solely on the proposed Bell Centre project, but we are disappointed that the project isn’t going through.
“I want to thank all those involved in the project, like the public health teams, the City of Montréal, and most importantly Groupe CH, for their cooperation over the last two years. I commend Groupe CH on being one of the few professional teams that refuse to do business with illegal gambling operators.”
In her response, Drouin remarked that reducing the number of terminals would not exactly limit access.
Montréal Public health also criticized the provincial regulator’s “lack of transparent public consultation of the various local stakeholders.”
Dugas, however, maintains that Loto-Québec has been transparent and open to Montréal Public Health throughout the process.
Montréal Public Health data shows that since 2005, retail casino visitation numbers are declining, while online gaming numbers are rising.