Aug. 7th Article in Sudbury Star - Sudbury Casino means net loss .. majority of comments from readers support article premise. 

A Sudbury casino will have "a profound negative social and economic impact" on the municipality, a local businessman believes.

Tom Fortin, the owner of Ontrak Control Systems, has joined the No Casino Sudbury movement and made his views known via a two-page ad posted on the group's website.

In the advertisement, called "An Economic Look at Sudbury's Proposed New Casino," Fortin outlines what he believes a casino will do for the city.

In short, none of it is good. If built, he says a casino will take away money that would have been spent at restaurants and on festivals and events.

"It really does not matter what business you work in. There will be much less money floating around the community for entertainment, culture and everything else that makes life worth living."

Robert Williams, a health sciences professor at the University of Lethbridge and a research co-ordinator for the Alberta Gambling Research Institute, praised Fortin for understanding "economics 101."

"There's a couple of minor errors in his logic, but essentially his point is correct," the professor said. "Because of this peculiar situation where the bulk of the patronage (in Ontario casinos) comes from the local municipality, but the money is directed at the provincial level or the operator level and is taken out of the community, there's always going to be a net economic loss to the local economy."

"The essential point he's making is you've got to follow the money, and when you follow the money you see the money's coming largely from Sudbury residents and it's going largely to the provincial government and the owner-operator. It's not going directly back to Sudbury."

Municipal governments, Williams continued, are essentially being bought off by the host fee -- but at great cost to the local economy.

In March 2012, the provincial government announced plans to scrap the Slots at Racetracks program, which gave Ontario's 17 racetracks a predetermined percentage of slots revenue.

In its place is a plan to have private operators build full-blown casinos. The details are still being worked out by the government and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

Mayor Marianne Matichuk, who's repeatedly said she supports a casino in Sudbury proper, tied in with a con-v e nt i o n centre and OHL-calibre arena, was confused by the message of Fortin's ad and the general opposition to a casino.

"I don't understand why there's this big controversy about a casino, because we already have one," she said Wednesday. "I was looking at some of the information that's in (the ad), and it's very interesting. That's all I can say."

Williams estimated only 5% of visitors to a future Sudbury casino would be from out of town, reinforcing Fortin's point that it will redirect money which would have been spent elsewhere in the city.

"It's basically foolish to think a Sudbury casino will (be able to compete) with the omnipresent nature of casinos throughout Ontario. If a Sudbury casino made any sense, it would have been put in place 25 years ago, when the first were casinos were instituted in Ontario," he said.

" The first casinos were put in places that actually made the most economic sense -- the border communities of Windsor and Niagara Falls. True to form, up to 40 to 50% of the revenue came from U.S. residents. So it was a true economic benefit, as we had an influx of wealth from outside the community."

In Ontario, he said, those who do come from out of town tend to make day trips to the casinos, eat at the restaurant on site and drive back home, providing very little economic stimulus.

"People talk about the revenues, but they gloss over where the money goes. I think it's a conspiracy, maybe unwitting and unknowing, but it's a conspiracy between the OLG, the casino operators and municipal governments -- the three winners in this -- over the general public, who are not educated about the economics."

OLG Spokesperson Tony Bitonti refuted a number of statements in the advertisement. Firstly, he said, it refers to money being taken out of the country by a U.S. owner-operator, when an operator has not been chosen and could very well be Canadian.

"When he starts talking about what's leaving Sudbury every year, he's making an assumption that the operator of Sudbury Downs ... is going to be a U.S. owner.

"There are a number of gaming companies that have shown interest in the gaming zones we have out there. So we can't assume that it's a U.S. operator."

In addition, Bitonti said the calculations for economic impact -- with $100 to $150 million listed as the expected gaming revenue for Sudbury -- is incorrect. That number, taken off the OLG's website, is the expected revenue for all of Northern Ontario.

"When he says $23 million has been removed from the Sudbury economy (by the slots at Sudbury Downs), to me that's a little misleading. That money does go back in various ways to Sudbury, through payments to the city, through hospital operations, through the Trillium Foundation, through sponsorships.

"There are lots of voices out there, and they can distort the facts the way they want. We can present our facts. There's different points of views, different opinions, but (Sudbury) city council said we want to continue to be a willing host."

laura.stricker@sunmedia.ca

 

 

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