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Montreal public health recommends against video gaming machines at Bell Centre

Montreal public health has made a recommendation against the proposed plan to install around 300 video lottery terminals at Taverne 1909, a four-storey building next to the Bell Centre.

A nearly 40-page report on the proposed gaming centre details the potential harms associated with opening a mini-casino-type establishment in the heart of the city's downtown, a stone's throw from the Montreal Canadiens' home arena. The report says a new gaming hall would "result in a substantial change in the supply" of gaming machines.

"On the basis of public health considerations, the Direction régionale de santé publique de Montréal does not recommend setting up a gambling hall in downtown Montreal," the report's conclusion reads. "[Public health] recommends continuing to reduce the number of VLT sites in Montreal, as observed since 2017, by ceasing to grant operating permits for video lottery terminals."

Among its conclusions, public health found that having a centralized gaming hall in an area with heavy foot traffic would "allow larger sums to be wagered and more quickly than the VLTs that will be removed from bars and brasseries" and that it would lure younger people and vulnerable gamblers to a potentially dangerous gaming habit "with the associated health impacts that we all know about."

Loto-Quebec spokesperson Renaud Dugas said the Crown corporation asked Quebec public health for its opinion and recommendations in April and that it should be coming soon.


"We are also surprised that Montreal Public Health decided to send its report and grant an interview to journalists rather than to the main party concerned, Loto-Québec," said Dugas. "We are also surprised because we have been working with Montreal Public Health on this issue for two years, even before the project was submitted."

Montreal public health director Mylene Drouin said the Quebec government requested that the report be done, and that she submitted it six weeks ago.

"So I do not have the responsibility to give my reports [to Loto-Quebec]," she said.

Montreal public health also criticized Loto-Quebec's "lack of transparent public consultation of the various local stakeholders."

Dugas said Loto-Quebec has been transparent and open to questions from Montreal public health, and that part of the plan was to reduce the number of VLTs at other Montreal locations as  new ones were installed at Taverne 1909.

"Loto-Québec has difficulty explaining why its proposal to reduce the number of VLTs in the city of Montreal by 20 per cent (i.e. nearly 600) is considered a bad idea," he said.

Drouin said reducing the number of terminals would not limit access.

"We see that this project does optimize the access and does normalize gaming activities, and it is a really important risk for initiation of young adults, mainly young men to gaming activities," she said.

Associating gaming with the Montreal Canadiens is also a concern for public health.

"Joining with a brand that is really accepted and glorified, we know that it normalizes and gives a sense of security where it is not secure," said Drouin. "We're talking about a product that is quite dangerous."

Concordia sociology professor Sylvie Kairouz helped write the opinion for public health. She said that research from the past two decades has shown that VLTs are "built for addiction."

"They are, in terms of the way they work, the way they reward the player, the speed of the game, there are all the electronic dimensions of those machines that make them very addictive, which means that people are more likely to lose control when they gamble on those machines compared to any other type of gambling activity," she said.

The report added that VLTs at a depanneur or local pub do not have the same impact as those in a space like the Bell Centre with its massive crowds.

"We're bringing them at the centre where there is the most people circulating among the residents, but also from outside other areas that are coming to this hub actually," said Kairouz. "The exposure is a risk by itself, and also, we're concerned because the exposure really doesn't discriminate between a younger and an older person. So we're exposing really populations that are at risk. What we consider at risk are younger populations, younger men, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and with less education."  

With reporting from CTV News journalist Matt Gilmour. Top Stories

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