Proximity of casino to Mount Royal University raises questions about student gambling
On a weekday afternoon, the smell of smoke tinges the air inside Grey Eagle Casino as people sit in front of slot machines, concentrating deeply on their game. Outside, a construction crew is hard at work underneath a flat, grey sky.
They are working on an expansion of the casino that, according to the Calgary Herald, will add a 4.5 star hotel, a 2,000-seat entertainment centre and 300 new slot machines to the services that the casino offers.
This expansion is expected to draw more customers than ever before to the Grey Eagle Casino.
But the close proximity of Mount Royal University — a mere 3.5 kilometres away — raises questions about the impact that the casino expansion will have on the student population.
Dr. Garry Smith, a gambling research specialist at the Alberta Gaming Research Institute, thinks the close proximity of the casino and its planned expansion could create problems for students at the university.
"I don't think there's any research on it [casinos] being near schools. Usually they're not."
But given that proximity, Smith said, "There are some students at Mount Royal that could be predisposed [to problem gambling] and with a casino close by, you know they could probably go over there for lunch, they have cheaper meals at casinos, or have a beer after school."
Grey Eagle Casino is the second closest casino to a major university main campus in all of Alberta, according to an exclusive analysis by the Calgary Journal.
However, a representative of the Tsuu T'ina Nation — which owns the casino — says the casino hasn't had an impact.
This may have been the case for Meghan Darcy Melnyk, the former Mount Royal University students' association president, who robbed a Servus Credit Union in February 2012. According to the Calgary Herald, Melnyk told reporters her gambling addiction and the closeness of a casino to the university created problems for her.
Those problems weren't created by the video lottery terminals at Grey Eagle. But those terminals, which are part of the casino, are "the most dangerous form of gambling," according to Smith.
"I say that because 75 per of all the people who are problem gamblers, machines are their preferred game. And the reason they get addicted to them is the speed of play, you can play them in two seconds."
A problem gambler, according to a profile by Alberta Health Services, is someone who bets more than they can afford to lose and more than they intended, chases gambling losses and increases wager, borrows money to finance gambling, lies about their gambling and gambles to escape personal problems.
Smith states: "Only about five per cent of Albertans have a gambling problem. So there'd be five per cent of Mount Royal students who might be predisposed and it tends to be more males than females."
Some of the negative results of problem gambling include:
- Stress and anxiety
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Suicide ideation and attempts
There is also the risk of losing large amounts of money. Another profile by AHS states that it is unclear whether problem gambling is a cause or consequence of a mental health issue.
Mount Royal University's counselling webpage offers information such as fact sheets about compulsive gambling. Students are encouraged to contact counseling services if they are experiencing problems with gambling.
As for the university's position on the expansion, representative Duane Anderson said, We've always been a little concerned as an institution just mainly about the casino, and will it have any effects on students and attracting them to that and bringing them away from campus."
Anderson said they haven't seen any significant changes or concerns in student behaviour since the casino opened.
He credits the recent construction on the roads between Grey Eagle Casino and Mount Royal University as part of the reason students might not be exhibiting problem gambling behaviour. He stated that recent projects such as a traffic circle make it harder to drive there from the school.
Distances from select Canadian universities to the nearest casino
Mount Royal University — 3.5 km
The expansion plans for Grey Eagle Casino first had to be evaluated by the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission, which has a three-step process for approving casino expansions.
The first step involves the commission assessing the request to determine if it meets basic criteria in regard to impact upon charitable groups and gaming in the community.
Community impact is considered afterwards. As a casino on First Nations land, Grey Eagle first had to seek the approval of the expansion in the First Nations community. The casino then went beyond what was required by the liquor and gaming commission by conducting community input sessions outside the First Nation's community.
When asked about the impact Grey Eagle Casino would have on Mount Royal students, Cam Hantiuk, band spokesman for the Tsuu T'ina Nation, said, "The best authority to comment on that would be Mount Royal and it seems to me that their position would be a position that the Tsuu T'ina Nation would echo."
That's a reference to Anderson's earlier statement that the school hasn't "seen any significant changes or concerns in student behaviour" as a result of the facility.
When asked for his opinion on the expansion, Hantiuk said, "As far as the Tsuu T'ina Nation is concerned, it's an important piece of economic development for the nation and will create economic benefit that will improve the lives of nation members."
- By KRISTINE SARETSKY