Councillors in the city of North Bay, located about 300 miles north of Toronto, have passed a motion approving the construction of a new casino in the community, leaving many citizens shocked and angry.
“You just killed our city,” came the angry cries and boos from the packed gallery after council voted 8-3 in favor of approving a casino in the city of about 50,000 people.
According to several news outlets, many attending the special council meeting left the chambers threatening to move out of the city as a result.
One outburst came from a woman irate that the council completely ignored the long line of casino opponents who spoke passionately against the proposal at the meeting.
“You’re supposed to represent these people,” one speaker said, according to the North Bay Nugget. “Shame on you.”
The $31 million dollar gaming facility will feature 300 slot machines and ten table games and is expected to create some 200 jobs.
The end vote, and the resulting fury from the crowd, came as something of a surprise to observers, considering councilors listened for two hours as speaker after speaker laid out their opposition.
About 20 people, most carrying “No Casino” signs, publicly addressed councilors with their concerns about what the casino would mean for the community.
Some pointed to examples of the negative social impacts that casinos have had in other small communities, while others worried that local charities might suffer as a result.
“It absolutely broke my heart. I couldn't believe what I was hearing,” said resident Tracey Restoule to Subbury.com after the meeting. “If city council is going to represent North Bay, they have to represent everyone, not just those people that can benefit economically from something like this.”
Elected officials themselves also clashed over the controversial result.
Councillor Mark King called for a motion of reconsideration, meaning council will vote on the matter again at the next meeting, this time without any discussion.
That prompted fellow councillor Dave Mendicino to call King a “piece of work,” accusing him of political grandstanding in the face of a sound 8-3 defeat.
In response, King accused Mendicino of bowing to the interests of casino developers.
“I fully understand where his priorities lie,” charged King, according to Sudbury.com “They lie with the developer, they don’t lie with the people of the City of North Bay.”
Billion Dollar Baby
This particular casino project may be relatively small, but the gaming industry in Ontario is a significant economic driver.
According to a recent report from the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation (OLG), casinos generated $4.1 billion in economic activity between 2016 and 2017, resulting in a net profit of $2.36 billion for the province.
Almost all of that – $2.2 billion – went to hospitals in the region, while more than $100 million went to local charities.
And the industry is only set to grow. Earlier this year, Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment won the gaming rights to operate the two casinos in the Niagara Falls area for the next 21 years.
That’s expected to open Ontario up to a market of millions south of the border, pouring billions more into provincial coffers in the years ahead.
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