|Georgian Downs racetrack and slots, south of Barrie. (IAN MCINROY/QMI AGENCY)
TORONTO - It means more slot machines, more casinos and more gambling revenue for the government but Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says it isn’t an expansion of gaming in the province.
“It’s not about expanding, it’s about better optimization of what we’re doing,” Duncan said, after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Corporation unveiled where it wants to locate 29 “gaming zones” across the province, each one privately run and capable of hosting slot machines, table games or a combination of both.
“This will not lead to more gambling. It will lead to more profits,” Duncan said.
“If there is an expansion in slots and tables it won’t be significant. There will however, be a significant dividend to the taxpayers of Ontario.”
The jewel in the OLG’s new gaming crown would be a huge casino in the Toronto area, hosting up to 5,000 slot machines. Interested firms - including major players from Las Vegas - have until mid-summer to express their interest to OLG while the city itself will have to decide by late December if it wants in. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is keen but is likely facing long odds to get a majority of councillors to support a casino.
Most of the 29 proposed gaming zones already have an OLG-run facility but the corporation wants out of running them all in favour of private sector firms. Pending local approval, new casinos or slot palaces could go to the Toronto area, Kenora, Collingwood/Wasaga Beach, Belleville and North Bay.
If all the slots allowed in each gaming zone are approved, the total number in Ontario would rise 48% to 35,300 machines.
Each gaming zone could also host table games and - if a federal bill amending the Criminal Code gets proclaimed - a sports book as well. But OLG officials said no slots or video lottery terminals would be allowed outside regulated gaming sites.
OLG and the government hope the gambling reset will increase revenues by $1.3 billion a year by 2017-18. That means the Toronto area casino needs to be approved, built and running by that time - no easy feat considering opponents are lining up against both the plan and the way the Liberals are pursuing it.
NDP MPP Michael Prue said the province had been operating under a law which, until it expired last year, required referendums in host communities.
Instead of reaffirming that position, the government moved quietly last week to ensure that no referendum was necessary for a municipal government to approve a casino in their jurisdiction.
“This government promised from the beginning that they were going to consult with people,” Prue said. “And now we’ve seen by their actions today - passing a regulation in secret without telling anybody at all - that they are in fact taking that right away.”
Government officials said Prue was wrong and the referendum requirement actually expired nine years ago. The new regulation may not require a vote but does demand municipalities consult the public and hold a council vote before approving a casino.
Tory MPP Monte McNaughton, who has a private member’s bill before the Ontario legislature that would enshrine the obligation of a referendum, said local people deserve to be asked if they want a casino.
“This is a backdoor approach to changing regulations that’s more of the sneaky approach of the Dalton McGuinty government,” McNaughton said. “He’s not interested in transparency.”
New Gaming Zones:
Zones C1 and C2 - Toronto, Peel Region, York Region - (up to 5,000 slots)
Zone C3 - Durham Region - (up to 1,600 slots)
Zone C4 - Halton Region - (up to 1,200 slots)
Zone C5 - Barrie, Simcoe County - (up to 1,200 slots)
Zone C6 - Minjinkaning Reserve - (up to 3,000 slots)
Zone C7 - Simcoe Country - (up to 300 slots)
Zone C8 - Mississaugas of Scugog Lake Reserve - (up to 600 slots)
Zone SW1 - Region of Waterloo - (up to 1,200 slots)
Zone SW2 - Brantford, County of Brant - (up to 600 slots)
Zone SW3 - Woodstock, Oxford County - (up to 300 slots)
Zone SW4 - London, Middlesex County, City of St. Thomas, Elgin County< - (up to 1,200 slots)
Zone SW5 - Huron County - (up to 300 slots)
Zone SW6 - Municipality of Chatham-Kent - ( up to 300 slots)
Zone SW7 - Bruce County, Grey County - (up to 300 slots)
Zone SW8 - Sarnia, Point Edward - (up to 600 slots)
Zone SW9 - Hamilton, Burlington - (up to 1,200 slots)
Zone SW10 and SW 11 - Niagara Falls - (up to 5,000 slots combined)
Zone SW12 - Windsor - (up to 2,500 slots)
Zone E1 - City of Peterborough, County of Peterborough - (up to 600 slots)
Zone E2 - Belleville, Municipality of Quinte West - (up to 300 slots)
Zone E3 - Kington, Frontenac County, City of Gananoque, Leeds and Grenville Counties - (up to 600 slots)
Zone E4 - Ottawa, Counties of Prescott and Russell - (up to 2,000 slots)
Zone N1 - Sudbury - (up to 600 slots)
Zone N2 - Sault Ste. Marie - (up to 600 slots)
Zone N3 - Thunder Bay - (up to 600 slots)
Zone N4 - Kenora, WON Reserve - (up to 300 facilities)
N5 - North Bay - (up to 300 slots)
NB: Table games will be determined at future date