More than 100 people gathered in St. Patrick’s Hall Tuesday for the first of five public meetings to discuss casino proposals put forth by the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) and Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) earlier this month.
Although officials from STC and SIGA — as well as the editor of Canadian Gaming News — touted the benefits of a casino for about 90 minutes, some Saskatonians spoke out against the proposals.
“Yes, it can be argued a casino can benefit our city, but at what costs?” asked former police chief Dave Scott.
Scott said that during his years as a police officer, he witnessed firsthand the “destructive” effects of gambling on families. He said city council must allow a plebiscite on the issue.
“Every nickel SIGA or any other gambling organization makes comes from the hand of a loser — someone who had a dream to win, but lost,” he said.
Billie Rowluck, a 33-year-old teacher, also encouraged the public to speak out against the construction of a new casino in Saskatoon.
“I don’t think this will benefit a lot of people. It will benefit a few,” he said.
Agnes Nicotine, a Saskatoon resident opposed to Togel gambling, agreed. She said that in her opinion, a casino would create more social harm than good.
“I’m just really ticked off with this,” Nicotine said. “The only people who are going to benefit is what — the ones that are (in it) for the money.”
The public meeting, sponsored by the STC and SIGA, drew several politicians, including Mayor Jim Maddin, MLA Pat Lorje and city councillors Rik Steernberg, Peter McCann, Patricia Roe and Myles Heidt.
Heidt said the Centennial Auditorium location, at 22nd Street and Pacific Avenue, is his first choice. The other proposed locations include the A.L. Cole and 25th Street sites.
“I don’t need a plebiscite to say that I think it’s best to be moved from Prairieland Exhibition and moved downtown where we can get a million and a half dollars taxation to run the city and the school boards. So that’s my issues on that,” Heidt said.
“I know a lot of people have some problems with gaming, but it’s in every corner bar that we have, the VLTs and everything else,” he said.
Lester Lafond, spokesperson for the STC on the casino issue, said the Saskatoon casino would have more than two million visitors annually, would be the single largest tourist attraction in the province, and would provide more than 700 direct jobs.
“We have not been afraid of public consultation,” he said. “We’ve put this forward so we can talk to our partners, to hear our partners out.”
Ivan Sack, editor of Canadian Gaming News, said while “there is this sort of initial nervousness” surrounding gambling, casinos benefit cities by providing jobs and economic development.
He said Canada currently has 75 casinos, with 12 more under construction.