City Council Update on Board of Health Report for Reducing Harms from Gambling in Ottawa

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At City Council this past Wednesday, Council received the recommendation report from the Board of Health – A Public Health Approach to Reducing Harms from Gambling in Ottawa.

 

I voted in favour of this report for several reasons; the new venue of the Hard Rock Casino expansion will create many job opportunities for our residents and generate significant tourism dollars for our City. As Chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, I have worked closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) on this file. We have been focused on how we can reduce the potential harms of gambling in Ottawa and I am satisfied with the approach we are taking and the conversations we’ve had with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and Hard Rock Ottawa.

 

In August 2013, the Ottawa Board of Health approved a report on the Health and Social Impacts Related to Problems with Gambling in Ottawa. The report highlighted existing gaps in prevention and treatment services and identified a need for a coordinated, locally focused approach to prevent gambling-related harms and to increase funding to support a comprehensive approach to prevent gambling related harms, including increased funding to local treatment services and prevention and outreach initiatives.

 

Current consultations with local prevention and treatment agencies have identified that these gaps in prevention and treatment initiatives continue to exist, along with a lack of public awareness on the harms related to gambling. Similar to in 2013, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is concerned that an increase of gambling opportunities in Ottawa could have negative health and social impacts on some individuals who gamble, on their families, and within the broader community.

 

Research shows that increases in gambling availability are associated with a growth in problem gambling. Based on the near 2% prevalence of moderate risk and problem gambling in Ontario, there could be close to 15,000 adults in Ottawa with gambling problems. However, only about 540 individuals received gambling addiction treatment in Ottawa in 2016/17. This suggests most individuals needing treatment are not seeking support.

 

In 2013, the recommendations approved by Council focused largely on the gambling environment, specifically focusing on implementing 10 operating policies. Although these policies are still relevant and research continues to evaluate their effectiveness, gambling-related issues are much broader than land-based casino venues. Over the past five years, the focus to prevent harms from gambling has shifted from examining solely the gambling environment to a broader public health approach. With the proliferation of online gambling, gambling technology and the expansion of land-based gambling and the associated harms from gambling, OPH is recommending the implementation of a collaborative public health approach to help mitigate and prevent gambling-related harms.

 

OPH is proposing a 4-point plan, which is evidence-informed and includes input from local prevention and treatment agencies, OLG, and HRCO. This plan seeks to address harms related to gambling in the community.

 

The plan would involve:

  • Establishment of a network to collaborate across sectors to reduce harms related to gambling;
  • Increased awareness about the harms related to gambling and early warning signs and improved informed decision-making about gambling;
  • Work with community partners to reach groups at higher risk of gambling problems and improved knowledge of local gambling treatment options; and
  • Ongoing monitoring and surveillance related to problem gambling and harms related to gambling.

 

OPH is seeking $150K in one-time provincial funding to support a health promotion campaign, outreach to residents at higher risk of gambling problems and the establishment of the Ottawa Gambling Harm Prevention Network. OPH is also seeking an additional $200K in base provincial funding to support on-going work to reduce harms from gambling, which includes on-going outreach to residents with high risk for gambling problems, youth prevention initiatives, monitoring and surveillance, and staffing support to the Ottawa Gambling Harm Prevention Network.

 

The province of Ontario is responsible 100 per cent for OLG, for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and for problem gambling. It is not for us to take this responsibility on. The province gets its full share of funding from casinos and should be providing 100-per-cent responsibility for any  problem gambling.

We have a commitment from Hard Rock to work with us (OPH) on:

  • contribution to Ottawa Public Heath’s four point plan to reduce harms associated with gambling, which will include, but not be limited to:
  • participating in the Ottawa Prevention Gambling Network
  • contributing to a local prevention campaign
  • sharing local gambling data to inform ongoing work to reduce harms in our community
  • addressing areas of improvement, as outlined in the recent RG Checklist