Montreal public health is not in consent with Loto-Québec plans of launching a mini-casino with over 300 video lottery terminals at Taverne 1909 next to the Bell Centre. Direction régionale de santé publique de Montréal issued a 40-page report on the project detailing the potential harms related to the opening of a casino right next to the home arena of the Montreal Canadiens.
The report concludes that the new gaming hall in downtown Montreal will result in a substantial change in the supply of gaming machines and does not recommend it. Instead, Public Health advises the province to continue to reduce the number of VLT sites in the city, as noted since 2017, by suspending the grant of operating permits per video lottery terminals.
The Regulator Did Not Expect Such Response
A spokesperson for Loto-Québec, Renaud Dugas, shared that the corporation was surprised that Montreal Public Health opted to send its report to journalists instead to the main party concerned, the Crown agency. He added that the Crown was surprised since it was working with MPH on the issue for two years, even before the reveal of the downtown project.
Director for the organization, Mylene Drouin revealed the provincial government requested for the report to be compiled and that it was submitted six weeks ago. Therefore, she had no responsibility to give her reports to the Crown corporation. MPH also criticized the Crown for lack of transparent public consultation of the various local stakeholders regarding the VLTs at Taverne 1909.
Furthermore, Ms. Drouin claimed that associating the gaming hall with the Montreal Canadiens will enable concerns for public health. In her opinion, joining a popular brand that is accepted and glorified with VLTs gives a sense of security, which is not the case. She commented that the result is a product that is quite dangerous for locals.
In the meantime, Concordia sociology professor Sylvie Kairouz argued that VLTs are made for addiction. She elaborated that these machines are designed to reward the player, and their speed of playing can be quite addictive, therefore, more people could spiral down and lose control when they gamble on VLTs in comparison to any other type of gambling activity.
Announcement and Initial Feedback
Loto-Québec first shared its plans for the gaming facility at Taverne 1909 back in March 2023, by CEO Jean-Francois Bergeron during a radio interview. Finance Minister Eric Girard commented the provincial government has two conditions for the Bell Centre project. The first one is to have public health as a priority, and the second one would be to try to ensure a lead decrease in VLTs in the province.
However the project is also opposed by several Montreal communities. Sud-Ouest borough and Peter-McGill district of the Ville-Marie borough have declared that they disapprove plans. Serge Sasseville, independent city councillor for the Ville-Marie borough's Peter-McGill district commented that the new gaming establishment could be harmful to vulnerable people in the area.
Source: Rowe, Daniel “Montreal public health recommends against video gaming machines at Bell Centre” CTV News, September 18, 2023