Ask yourself: would you ever give up billions of dollars that could be invested in hospitals and schools, thousands of good-paying local jobs and millions from municipal budgets in exchange for a plan to let a hundred casinos open and take their profits offshore? The Ontario government risks making this bad bet if they continue pursuing their current iGaming plan.
The COVD-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, including bricks-and-mortar casino operators like Great Canadian, which employs around 3,000 members of Unifor. Bricks-and-mortar casinos have been among the first businesses to close and the last to reopen during this turbulent period, and unlike some other hospitality and tourism operations, our facilities were completely closed during much of the lockdown.
This closure put thousands of gaming employees out of work, threatened thousands more secondary jobs across the province, and eliminated an important revenue stream for local and provincial government. And now, just as casino workers and operators are tentatively looking ahead to see what the future will bring, the Ontario government is preparing to deal us another bad hand.
The current iGaming framework, which proposes an open-license model that will allow an unlimited number of online casinos, will only make the situation worse. The framework could lead to hundreds of online gaming sites with a 35% tax advantage—all without any significant employment or capital investment in Ontario.
iGaming is jobless gaming. Unlike bricks-and-mortar casinos, iGaming companies do not hire thousands of local workers, purchase local supplies, invest billions in property developments, or contribute significant revenues to local municipal budgets for services people need such as education and healthcare.
If the Ontario government does not introduce measures to ensure our facilities are supported, many people will lose their jobs and municipal budgets will suffer. The bricks-and-mortar casino industry provides more to Ontario than its peers in any region in North America, paying 55% of its revenues to the province in tax. Great Canadian has also committed to spend $2 billion of capital to develop and modernize its facilities in Ontario to create jobs.
In fact, an independent report by HLT Advisory – a leading gaming advisory firm – projects that the proposed iGaming model will cost Ontario more than 2,500 local jobs, $3 billion in tax revenue for the province, over $190 million in municipal contributions to casino host communities, and $130 million in capital investment. This means substantially less fiscal support for Ontario’s most critical priorities. In Windsor, for example, it would translate to a loss of $8.1 million in municipal revenue, while Niagara would see close to $23.6 million lost, which would likely result in higher property taxes and cuts to services in these respective regions.
Ontario communities cannot afford to lose thousands of good, union jobs. We owe it to hard-working Ontarians to take the time to ensure a level playing field between bricks-and-mortar casino operators and digital-only companies. What does this mean? It means pausing the iGaming launch and working with revenue-generating Ontario companies, workers and communities to implement balanced rules for both sides that can protect jobs and investment.
An integrated approach with bricks-and-mortar casinos has already proven successful in all other North American jurisdictions. In fact, nowhere in the U.S. or Canada does a model exist that is comparable to what the Ontario government is proposing: a substantially lower iGaming tax rate of 20% (vs. 55% for bricks-and-mortar casinos), and an unlimited number of licenses for online casinos.
Without the necessary changes, the province’s current iGaming plan will create an uneven marketplace and cannibalize existing bricks-and-mortar casinos and their contributions to communities across Ontario. That is why we are calling on the government to hit the pause button and consider what’s at stake.
We’re calling on the Ontario government to work closely with gaming workers and their unions, local communities, municipal partners, First Nations communities, local suppliers and other key stakeholders to achieve a collaborative solution. Ultimately, our goal must be to provide a responsible, best-in-class gaming experience across all platforms.
That will require creating a level playing field, so that bricks-and-mortar casinos and digital-only gaming companies operate according to the same rules.
- Tony Rodio, Chief Executive Officer, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation
- Jerry Dias, National President, Unifor
This op ed was first submitted to the Windsor Star on February 2, 2022 and appeared in the February 12, 2022 edition.