Swinging Bells At Centre Bell? Oui, If Loto-Quèbec, The Canadiens Get Their Way

Written By Robyn McNeil on February 27, 2023
Loto-Quèbec is in talks with the Montreal Canadians to bring gambling to the Bell Centre, according to lottery CEO Jean-Francois Bergeron.

Loto-Quèbec is in talks with the Montreal Canadians to bring a Quebec casino to the Bell Centre, according to a top executive.

If successful, the lottery will install video lottery terminals, sports betting kiosks and poker tables inside the 1909 Taverne Moderne. The restaurant, located in a three-story building that adjoins the Bell Centre, closed at the beginning of the pandemic.

CEO Jean-Francois Bergeron discussed the possibility of the new gambling hall on Wednesday during an early-morning interview with Paul Arcand on 98.5 FM.

“We’re not quite ready [to make an announcement], but yes, we’re in discussions,” Bergeron said.

“Ideally, it [the deal] would be done by now.”

Lottery, Canadiens in extended talks

According to Bergeron, the lottery had been in talks with the Canadiens for months.

In addition to deciding whether to go ahead, logistics planning is also under discussion. So, things like opening hours and other operational details. (Currently, the suggestion is noon to 3 a.m.)

The mini Montreal casino’s target clientele, he said, will be Bell Centre visitors.

However, public access would also be available via the restaurant’s separate street entrance.

Detractors pan plan to bring more gambling to downtown Montreal

But, not everyone is in support of the potential partnership.

“This will be a mini-casino with reportedly hundreds of slot machines and also sports gambling terminals, psychologist and gambling expert Jeffrey Derevensky told CTV News.

“What they are trying to do is capitalized on a market – increase their market share and market penetration by moving the slot machines out of the casino and into a new facility.”

According to Loto-Quèbec, one of the goals is to reduce illegal online gambling.

Derevensky is skeptical.

Slot machines, the psychologist said, are a continuous form of gambling that can be more problematic than others.

“I would venture to say it would be wise not to bring it into downtown Montreal where it’s much more easily accessible and available. We know that accessibility and availability often lead to problem gambling.”

Quèbec’s politicos not sold on Bell Centre gambling

Finance Minister Eric Gerard told CTV that before the project can go ahead, Quebec would want to impose two conditions:

  • public health must weigh in
  • ensure that if the project moves forward, the province has an overall reduction in video lottery terminals

In the Quebec legislature, Parti Quebecois said fewer games were better than more.

Quebec Solidaire reiterated the importance of hearing from public health.

“There are vulnerable populations in this neighbourhood, and we need various strategies to make a decision,” said leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

“But I’ll be honest with you. When you ask, ‘Does downtown Montreal need thousands of video poker machines?’ I think a lot of people, knowing that area, would tend to say the answer is no.”

Social acceptability “paramount” for Mayor Plante

At a news conference, Montreal’s Mayor Valérie Plante says Loto-Québec and the Canadiens should aim for “social acceptability” and Public Health approval.

Only then should they consider adding a mini-casino at the stadium.

“I share the opinion of Public Health on this subject, meaning there has to be social acceptability. That’s paramount,” she said.

Plante is also the borough mayor of Ville-Marie, the Bell Centre’s neighbourhood.

She noted that Public Health voiced serious concerns about the casino planned for Griffintown years ago.

At the time, the then-economically depressed area was home to vulnerable people. The $1.1 billion casino project fell through over objections from the community in 2006.

Plante said that the concerns for Griffintown, which borders Ville-Marie, “are similar” to fears over this new proposal.

“So we’ll have to see how the project evolves.”

Zoning regulations could add extra speed bump for new Québec casino

Even if Loto-Quèbec and the Canadiens decide to advance the partnership, the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, which regulates the lottery, must approve any new Quebec casinos.

Additionally, whether Ville-Marie’s zoning bylaws would allow a casino at the site is unclear.

Currently, Ville-Marie zoning regulations mention “casino” only in the context of the Casino de Montréal on Île Notre-Dame.

Even the mayor is still determining whether a casino can legally operate in downtown Montreal.  However, she intends to consult with local civil servants to assess the proposal’s legality.

More than two-thirds of Quèbec adults gambled in the last year

According to Statistics Canada, 69.1% of Quèbecers gambled in the previous year.

That’s slightly above the national average of 64.5%. But it’s near the middle of the pack when considering all provinces.

Of those Canadians who gambled last year, approximately 1.6% are at moderate to severe risk of gambling-related harms.

But, contrary to popular assumptions, the study also found that low-income earners are less likely to gamble than their more financially stable counterparts.

However, when they do, the study found folks with struggle financial struggles are more at risk for gambling problems.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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