Dr. Fred Bass, MD, Former Vancouver City Councillor, opposes casino expansion

Address to Council by Dr. Fred Bass, Former Vancouver City Councillor, MD, DSc, Consultant in Preventive Medicine. Among his other distinctions Dr. Bass holds a graduate degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Mr Mayor and Council,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

My trade is that of epidemiologist and tobacco addiction specialist. Epidemiology is the study of the determinants of health and illness in populations. My training in this area was at Harvard and Johns Hopkins.

I am wearing an Alligator Hat today that was given to me by smokers who appreciated learning that what controls their smoking behavior was not their thinking brain but their primitive—amphibian, Alligator Brain—the same part of the brain that controls problem gambling.

One of you asked the first evening, “What proportion of gambling money is spent by problem gamblers?”

That was a brilliant question. As the movie said, “Follow the money!” The lottery folks pleaded ignorance in their response.

The central issue here is not:
“What proportion of people are problem gamblers?”
but
“What proportion of dollars gambled are problem dollars?”

I will use a Solicitor General’s report of March 2003 to answer that question.

In response to “How much do you spend on gambling in an average month?”, the survey respondents told us that
20% spend less than $1 a month
45% spend $1-$10 a month
22% spend $11-$49 a month
6% spend $50-$99 a month
3% spend $100 to $199 a month and another
3% spend $200 or more

With the modest assumption that the $200 or more group spend $300 per month, we can answer the question what proportion of $ gambled comes from what proportion of the population.

The answer is that a bit over 50% ($1350 of $2695) of the money gambled came from 6% of those who gambled, which is 4.5% of the total population.

Coincidentally, the prevalence of problem gambling that year (2002) was estimated to be 4.6% of the total population.

This study also found that casino gamblers had a significantly higher proportion of problem gamblers 8.8% instead of 4.6% overall average. That’s almost twice the average prevalence.
Casinos appear to attract and/or produce problem gamblers.

In this room 25 years ago, when I was advocating for smoke-free pubs and restaurants, many union employees in the hospitality industry appeared as delegations to argue that smoke-free by-laws would ruin their jobs and their lives. You have heard similar statements from many casino employees.

Some strong words now: Like the tobacco industry, the casino industry is a parasitic industry. Gambling is not sustainable: witness their return, asking for gambling expansion just five years after their previous injection of a casino.

I believe the public, for the most part, has intuitively recognized that expanding slots from 600 to 1500 and gaming tables from 75 to 150 would not be good for this city.

My advice for those seeking re-election this fall is to reject expansion of the casino.

Respectfully,

Frederic Bass, MD, DSc

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