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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Upcoming Kenora Casino: CAMH not leaving harm reduction to chance

TORONTO, November 16, 2016 - ​In 2012, Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) announced a “modernization” plan that would see more casino operations expand into rural and urban communities. CAMH’s Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario (PGIO) has been advocating for healthy public policy, providing deputations and prioritizing a public health in response to casino gambling expansion. When the decision was made to open a new casino in Northwestern Ontario, CAMH identified this area of gambling expansion as a concern.

In the fall of 2012, Kenora City Council voted in favour of building a casino in the picturesque Ontario community situated on Lake of the Woods. Scheduled to be built next year, the rationale for approving the development is a familiar one—promises of job growth, increased tourism and city revenues. Many local health and social service professionals shared a different view on introducing 300 slot machines and 24 hour gambling to the Kenora community. With frontline experience helping people negatively impacted by substance use and problem gambling issues, they voiced concerns about vulnerable populations such as older adults and youth, and the unique pressures in service delivery to community members who are experiencing mental health and addiction challenges.

Studies show that while anyone can develop gambling problems, racialized, low-income, new immigrant, and Indigenous populations are particularly vulnerable to developing them. Problem gamblers have higher rates of co-occurring issues such as substance use disorders, mood and anxiety disorders. There is a high incidence of trauma and abuse in child and adulthood for women addicted to slot machine play 

CAMH is leading a novel approach to proactively anticipate and prevent foreseeable harms that may arise for people in the Kenora/Northwestern Ontario region. Recognizing the need to mitigate the harms associated with the new casino, CAMH approached OLG and they agreed to co-operate in exploring the multiple ways to prevent harms to the community. The Northwestern Ontario Wellness Gambling Response Program, or NOW for short, was born.

NOW includes an interdisciplinary team of CAMH problem gambling specialists, scientists, Aboriginal engagement and knowledge exchange professionals. Consultations with over 30 regional stakeholders have taken place and the development of the research plan is underway.

NOW Program team
NOW Program team from left to right; Dr. Lena Quilty, Janine Robinson and Dr. Renee Linklater

“We are working to put prevention initiatives and treatment resources into place in advance of the casino to make sure the community is prepared, which makes this a truly unique program,” says Dr. Lena Quilty, CAMH research lead of the NOW program.  “Research is integrated throughout to make sure our efforts are tailored to the specific vulnerabilities and strengths of this community.” The comprehensive, multi-year research program being developed includes a baseline assessment of gambling involvement, risks and resiliencies prior to the casino opening, followed by repeated assessments post-opening. Assessments of gambling involvement, health outcomes, service utilization and evaluation of interventions will be included. 

Janine Robinson is the problem gambling Knowledge Exchange lead from PGIO overseeing the training, implementation and program sustainability. “This opportunity to study and support a community before a casino is introduced is unprecedented,” Robinson explains. “We are committed to learning from and collaborating with our stakeholders in a meaningful way.”

Janine Robinson
Janine Robinson

Janine Robinson will be working closely with Dr. Renee Linklater who leads Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach for CAMH’s Provincial System Support Program (PSSP).  “With a PSSP Northwest Regional office in Kenora, our team is well-connected to service providers, First Nations communities and Aboriginal agencies throughout Northwestern Ontario. We will be able to support community mobilization and provide on the ground resources for NOW.” 

For more information about The Northwestern Ontario Wellness Gambling Response Program contact

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