Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson holds off on reacting to health concerns linked to new casino

Ottawans will have to wait until Monday to find out what Mayor Jim Watson thinks about the public health unit’s stance against a new casino.

Medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy made it clear last week he doesn’t support expanded gaming in Ottawa — shy of suggesting council nix the prospect of adding a second gaming zone altogether — and calling out the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. for not giving enough cash to treat gambling addictions.

The mayor supports gaming expansion.

Watson returned from vacation Sunday morning, making an appearance at Savour Ottawa’s Harvest Table in Brewer Park shortly afterwards.

“Well, because I’ve been away on holidays, I haven’t seen the report, so it’s hard for me to give you an informed opinion, so I look forward to reading that (Monday),” said Watson.

During the mayor’s absence, Levy revealed an estimated 13,000 adults in the city have a gambling problem.

Just 280 people seek treatment annually, yet there’s still a funding shortage.

Adding another casino will only exacerbate the problem, Levy said.

Public health is asking the local health network receive $2 million from the province instead of $741,000 annually for addiction programs.

The mayor acknowledged Levy “has a role, obviously, to play,” and council requested the health unit offer its opinion.

Does the decision, though, belong to council alone?

“Well, ultimately council makes the final decision, and it will take in lots of advice from the economic development department, the health unit, and from the public, and all of that is fed into the committee system and then ultimately council makes what they consider the best decision for the whole of the city,” said Watson.

When asked about public health wanting a 6.5% take of gaming revenues the city receives from the OLG, going without ATMs on gaming floors. and not operating 24/7, Watson wasn’t biting.

“I don’t like to comment on something I haven’t read, so I think, you know, if you want a more, you know, substantive comment, I’m going to have to read the report first, I think, in fairness to … the work that he did. I don’t want to give a comment on something I have not seen yet,” said Watson.

The agenda at Monday’s health board meeting includes impacts of gambling.

Twitter: @ottawasunkroche

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