30 March 2006

$3.1 Million Study On Impact of New Slots in Belleville To Begin

$3.1M gambling study set for Belleville
By renowned experts

By Derek Baldwin
Local News - Wednesday, March 29, 2006 @ 10:00

Belleville is going under the microscope in a ground-breaking before-and-after study to gauge the impacts new slot machines will have on the city, The Intelligencer has learned.

When completed, the multi-million dollar study by globally-recognized gambling experts is expected to provide previously uncharted information into how gambling expansion has benefited or harmed the community, said organizers.

“This is probably the first time in the world that a research team can go into a community, collect baseline data before the gaming facility opens and then track the community for four years afterward,” said Judith Glynn, director of grant operations for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre.

The centre was created by the province to monitor the social trends and needs of communities and individuals in the days after Ontario expanded legalized gambling beyond horse tracks and lottery tickets.

“In this field, as far as we’ve been able to determine, a study of this magnitude has not been done before,” Glynn said in an interview Tuesday from the Guelph-based centre which is spearheading the ambitious project.

The $3.1-million, five-year study will begin collecting data in coming weeks, a year before a proposed $30-million slots parlour and horseracing track is expected to open in the spring of 2007 on city land off Bell Boulevard.

Toronto-based Baymount Corporation was given a clean bill of health last week by the province to host a slots parlour that is expected to contain at least 200 new gambling machines the facility may draw up to one million visits a year.

Once the pre-opening data is collected by the study’s academic researchers, they will then track trends for the next four years in Belleville.

Researchers will look for anomalies or spikes in social, cultural and economic data, for example, ranging from increased crime to changes in spending of personal disposable income.

The study is being funded by the Ontario government, in part, from the $36 million the provincial government sets aside every year from the billions of dollars in gambling proceeds it collects from casinos and slots parlours across Ontario.

Glynn confirmed the research centre will announce this Friday which research team has won a global competitive bidding process to conduct the five-year study. Glynn said the centre will introduce its research team to Belleville’s civic and community leaders in an invitation-only meeting at a Belleville hotel at week’s end. Researchers will talk about the methods they will use to weigh the effects of gambling in the city over the coming years, Glynn said.

The request for proposals process drew interest from leading academics and researchers from around the world, including New Zealand and Australia to the United States, Glynn said.

“This was a competitive award, we had researchers from all over the world ... it was virtually a who’s who of gambling researchers worldwide,” said Glynn.

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Interest was extremely high in the project, she said, given the unusual opportunity to study a market before and after high-stakes gambling sets up shop in the city.

“It’s not a market that is completely covered by an existing gaming facility,” said Glynn, adding slots do exist at Kawartha Downs to the west and at the casino in Gananoque.

The fact that Belleville is also the last of 18 racetracks in Ontario to be approved for slots is of importance to researchers, she said.

Belleville, said Glynn, “is fairly uncontaminated’, so it makes a good research site.”

“This is potentially the last gaming operation to open in Ontario for a long time. To actually have the opportunity for researchers to go in where there is no existing gambling is extraordinary. The ability to collect baseline information a year before it opens, that’s huge.”

Gambling studies do not usually have the luxury of stabilized funding over five years to measure long-term effects of gambling, she said.

“A project like this will help us understand what the benefits are, what the potential problems are and who’s at risk,” said Glynn.

The study will also give residents of Belleville and area who are worried that gambling will ultimately hurt the community a credible yardstick on which to measure whether slot machines are good or bad for the city, she said.

During a decade of debate on slots in Belleville, critics have argued there will be a detrimental effect on the city through increased gambling addiction and lost business income because the gambling machines will cannibalize existing businesses.

Supporters of slots say the machines will create new jobs, attract tourists and will give the municipality millions in host-municipality revenues.

Glynn called the research centre’s effort a “serious, objective study to study what happens when you introduce gambling to a community. We will share information as it becomes available. I hope people will be pleased that they will know more than any other community the impact of this.

“No other host community has ever had this kind of information,” she said.

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