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Plan for 'private casino' in Snowdon faces stiff fight By Andy Riga, The GazetteJanuary 30, 2009Comments (3) A brand new private betting parlour on Décarie Blvd. in Snowdon? Don’t bet on it just yet. Community groups, the city of Montreal and an anti-gambling coalition say they will oppose a proposal to create the venue – to feature 300 video-lottery terminals as well as betting on televised horse races – near the current site of the Hippodrome de Montréal. Opponents fear such a facility would exacerbate social problems associated with VLTs, which are highly addictive. They say a casino has no place on or near the site. The city expects the provincially owned land – a sprawling piece of prime real estate on the métro network and near the Décarie Expressway and Highway 40 – to be used for housing. Currently, the Hippodrome (formerly known as Blue Bonnets) houses 200 VLTs and offers off-track betting. Under a restructuring plan to be presented in Quebec Superior Court on Monday, racetrack operator Attractions Hippiques wants to permanently remove horse racing from the site. The company, which is in creditor protection, would then build a new gambling venue offering 300 VLTs and off-track betting. It would be built “near the current Hippodrome,” according to the restructuring plan. It is unclear who would pay the bill but Alain Vallières, head of a horse breeders’ group known by the acronym SPECSQ, said his sources say the new facility would cost about $17 million. His group opposes the proposal because it does not include plans for a replacement racetrack in the Montreal area. Attractions Hippiques’ plan for a “private casino” on the Hippodrome site is unacceptable, especially since Côte des Neiges is in desperate need of housing, said Denyse Lacelle, co-ordinator of the Côte des Neiges Community Council, a coalition of 45 local groups. The site should be used for new residential development, including affordable housing, with an adjacent industrial sector expanded onto the site to help create jobs, she said. “With its location minutes from downtown and its massive size – the size of all of Old Montreal – it should be used for housing, not for VLTs,” she said. “If people want another casino in addition to the Casino de Montréal, the farther from residential areas the better.” She said Côte des Neiges, where 40 per cent of residents live in poverty, is no place for a casino. It could cause more financial misery, she explained. The community council, which plans to picket Monday’s court hearing, will press politicians to stop the proposal. The Quebec government, which owns the land on which the Hippodrome is located, would have to okay the company’s plan. Marvin Rotrand, city councillor for the area, said the city has not been consulted on the issue and would “ferociously oppose” plans for gambling on – or near – the Hippodrome site. “Whether it’s 300 poker machines or 2,000, we don’t want any casino” and the social problems it would cause, he said. As for the Hippodrome, “we want it redeveloped mostly for housing. It’s a hedge against urban sprawl – a way to let young families stay in the city.” Between 5,000 and 7,000 units could be built there, he said. Last year, a Quebec public health department study concluded that one out of four people who gamble on both VLTs and horse racing risk developing a serious addiction. Gambling critics describe VLTs as the crack cocaine of gambling, saying they lead to financial ruin for some addicts and suicide for others. Alain Dubois, a spokesperson for Emjeu, a citizens coalition for responsible gambling, said he fears a new facility at the Hippodrome would feature new types of VLTs that are aimed at a new audience: young people. The new VLTs are more interactive and challenging but are just as addictive, Dubois said. “No matter what type of VLT is installed, it’s a worrying proposal,” he said. “Adding machines there in a new building that has the allure of a casino in such a central location could attract many new players,” and leave more Quebecers addicted. [email protected] © Copyright © The Montreal Gazette