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Ontario stops funding problem gambling research agency, orders closure

Last Updated May 4, 2019 at 12:38 pm EDT

This Feb. 22, 2019, photo shows gamblers playing slot machines at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

The Ontario government has eliminated funding to an organization that researches problem gambling, ordering it to wind down operations by the summer.

Gambling Research Exchange Ontario was told last month that its entire $2.5 million annual budget had been cut by the province.

It will have to cease operations by mid-July and 14 staff members will lose their jobs.

The agency says it provides resources to prevent problem gambling that are used by front-line service providers including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission.

The cut comes as the Progressive Conservative government looks at ways to expand online gambling and has said it will allow free alcohol at casinos to allow operators to better compete with their American counterparts.

The government said it was making the cut so that it could focus on delivery of front-line services.

The CEO of Gambling Research Exchange Ontario said the organization is disappointed it won’t be able to continue the work its done for 20 years. The knowledge and research built up over that time could be lost, said Trudy Smit Quosai.

“Ontario has been an international leader prior to this and … people have looked to (us) as a model to minimize harm from gambling,” she said. “We’re hoping to find ways to keep the work of GREO going but we are concerned about that being lost.”

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is committed to an “effective and respectful” closure of the organization.

“As part of our commitment to redirect all available resources to the front lines, we have made the decision to wind down certain research programs,” Hayley Chazen said in a statement.

The government continues to spend approximately $33 million a year on problem gambling prevention programs, she said.

NDP addictions and mental health critic Bhutila Karpoche called the cut “short-sighted.”

“We know that the Gambling Research Exchange supports front-line agencies,” she said. “It’s really a harm reduction tool. Reducing harm reduction services is the wrong way to go.”

Karpoche said the government should be expanding supports that address problem gambling as it pushes ahead with its plan to offer more ways to gamble.

“I think at the end of the day the government has to realize cuts have consequences,” she said. “The cuts that the government is making are hurting the people of Ontario.”

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