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‘No’ side gearing up on gambling issue

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You can’t get “something for nothing.”

That’s just one reason why Jeraldine Bjornson, minister at Knox United Church here, said she will speak out against opening a charity gaming casino in Fort Frances before voters go to the polls in November.

And she’s expecting the local ministerial association—along with others—will come on board.

But as of yet, she doesn’t know exactly what approach they will take. The ministerial association hasn’t met since town council passed a bylaw late last month to put the question to voters during the municipal election Nov. 10.

“The United Church has always taken a fairly firm stance against gambling,” stressed Bjornson, with the Cambrian Presbytery (meeting over the weekend in Atikokan) again expressing its condemnation of casinos being established in Northwestern Ontario.

Her objection, Bjornson said, was that the entire concept was based on material winnings—without doing anything to earn it. And when expendable dollars are spent on gambling, it takes away from other areas.

While some forms of gambling already existed in the community, namely bingos and lottery tickets, Bjornson noted a charitable gaming casino would be on a much grander scale.

“Organized gambling is never good for a community," she argued, stressing the whole idea that governments would become "addicted to gambling” was deplorable.

CHC North Inc., comprised of CHC International, Inc. (a Miami-based company), Amethyst Holdings, Ltd. (headed by Thunder Bay entrepreneur Fraser Dougall), and 1191067 Ontario Inc. (owned by principals Tom Jones and Silvio De Gregorio based in Thunder Bay), last week was named the final proponent for “Cluster 6.”

This includes five permanent full-time facilities (Ottawa, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sudbury, and Sault Ste. Marie) and three part-time/seasonal ones (Fort Frances, Timmins, and Marathon).

Part-time/seasonal is described as anything less than full-time, which means 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“We still have some questions of our own,” admitted Beth Nelson, director of corporate communications for CHC International, stressing they wanted to get answers from the Ontario Gaming Commission.

“We want to come out with complete information.”

While she didn’t know that Fort Frances was holding a plebiscite on the issue next month, Nelson hoped municipalities would take the time to look at CHC North’s business plan before deciding for or against having a site.

Meanwhile, Ab Campion, with the Communication Services branch of the Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Relations, noted the site could go anywhere within a 40-km radius of Fort Frances. And he didn’t think the government would face a situation where no one would want to house it.

“There are just a number of places that do want this,” he said, adding the province will give municipalities $1,500 per video lottery terminal (the casinos will have a maximum of 150 VLTs).

Municipalities also can charge charities an administrative-based fees because they will be handling the time slots.

“Right now, they usually charge about $25 or $50 per event,” Campion said.

And he hoped municipalities would talk to stakeholders, such as the tourism industry, chambers of commerce and businesses, before making any decision.

Locally, neither the Fort Frances Business Improvement Area nor Chamber of Commerce has taken a stance on the gambling issue.

The eight final proponents announced Friday for the 36 full-time and eight part-time charity gaming casinos now will go through security checks, which is expected to take four to six weeks.

Then once the contract is signed, the owner has 45 days to come up with the exact site.

The province hopes to have the gaming facilities up and running by next spring.

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