A Chronology Of Gambling Expansion In Ontario

Editor’s note: Unless obviously otherwise, articles in this series against gambling are submitted, not written by, Marie-Lucie Spoke. As Marie-Lucie Spoke writes, “I am not OCAGE. I just direct the e-mail traffic and pull the information together.” Thank you for doing that, which we are all grateful for. We have been blessed. D Parkes.

ONTARIO COALITION AGAINST GAMBLING EXPANSION (OCAGE)

A CHRONOLOGY OF GAMBLING EXPANSION IN ONTARIO

1993 to present

“The governments of the citizen are now devoting themselves to the corruption of the citizen” John Ralston Saul

May 1993 – Soon to be premier Mike Harris says “Gambling doesn’t come cheap…. It brings crime. It brings prostitution…..There are big costs to pay”.

May 1994 – First Ontario casino – the temporary Casino Windsor opens (1852 Slots, 78 tables).

June 1995 – Mike Harris’s Conservative Government elected. Campaign included anti- casino stance.

1995-1996 – Contributions of at least $48,000 made to Conservative Party by businesses owned by a Toronto family who will subsequently win two major casino contracts (Toronto Star – May 1998).

Late 1995-1996 – Key government campaign advisors, now acting as private consultants, work with a Coopers & Lybrand gaming expert to lobby the newly elected government on behalf of “casino clients” (Toronto Star – May 1998).

December 1995 – Northern Belle Casino opens in Windsor (828 slots, 40 tables).

May 1996 – Government announces Charity Casino and Video Lottery Terminal initiatives and intent to shutdown existing 3 day roving Monte Carlo events, whose take has grown to$100 million annually.

Early 1996 – Coopers & Lybrand gaming expert chosen by government to run bidding process for permanent Niagara Casino. (Toronto Star- May 1998)

Summer 1996 – Government confirms that 44 Charity casinos are planned with up to 6,000 VLT’s. Initiative is expected to generate up to $1 Billion dollars in gambling losses by Ontarians

Government confirms that up to 14,000 VLTs are planned outside of casinos. At about $70,000 per machine per year, the initiative is expected to generate up to $1 Billion dollars in additional gambling losses by Ontarians.

July 1996 – Casino Rama opens (2,280 Slots, 109 tables).

August 1996 – At Bill 75 (to enable charity casinos and VLTs) hearings, Minister Norm Sterling promises that Slot Machines will not be allowed in Ontario, except at two casinos “one being at Rama and one being in Windsor.”

September 1996 – Solicitor General’s office refuses a Bill 75 Hearing Chair request to see a Joint Law Enforcement report on criminal involvement in Ontario gambling because it contains “sensitive” material on “criminal activity”

A Legal Brief prepared for Ontario Lottery Corp. says all of Ontario’s major gambling initiatives (except lotteries) are illegal under Criminal Code of Canada due in part to “the diversion of gaming proceeds from public purposes to private interests”. The report is never tabled at the Bill 75 hearings or made public.

Ontario Casino Corporation/Coopers & Lybrand call for bids on permanent Niagara Casino.

December 1996 – Interim Casino Niagara opens (2770 slots, 112 tables)

Coopers & Lybrand report identifies potential for 1/3 of Ontario adults to gamble at 44 new Charity Casinos 10 times/year and lose $1 Billion.

February 1997 – Government hires Coopers & Lybrand to calls for bids on the operation of 44 Charity Casinos. (Total VLT’s: 6,600. Total gaming tables: 1760).

1997 – Coopers & Lybrand consults on casino projects for a company who is simultaneously involved in bidding on Niagara Casino and the charity casino project. (Toronto Star – may 1998).

May 1997 – Toronto Board of Trade calls for a hold on charity casinos “until the potential social and economic repercussions have been well studied and assessed”

September 1997 – Government announces the selection of successful bidders in the Charity Casino project.

November 1997 – Municipal Referenda results across province on average 2:1 against gambling expansion.

January 1998 – B.C. Supreme Court says B.C. charity casino scheme violates the Criminal Code.

OCAGE lawyer Clayton Ruby says Ontario “charity” casino plan a “fraud” and illegal under Canada’s Criminal Code pertaining to charity gambling.

February 1998 – Anglican Bishop and Synod of Toronto confirm “overwhelming disagreement with the introduction of casino gambling”

Labour Council of Metro Toronto and York Region calls for “no more casinos”.

Ontario Casino Corp. uses Coopers & Lybrand to select U.S./Canadian Consortium Falls Management for $500 million permanent Niagara Casino project.

March 1998 – Despite citizen and new council opposition, Hamilton grants first building permit for new “charity” casino in province

$100 million dollar 3-Day Roving Monte Carlo events shut down in preparation for billion dollar charity casino project

Former 3-day Roving Monte Carlo operators launch first lawsuit against planned new charity casinos, saying that the Charity Casinos will breach Criminal Code.

April 1998 – Province says “We have listened to concerns of communities” and cancels 20,000 Video Lottery Terminals. But VLT’s to be replaced by 13,200 new slots at “charity” casinos and Racetracks.

Province shifts “charity ” casinos from charitable gaming to commercial gambling section of Criminal Code, eliminating federal statutory guarantees that charities will be prime beneficiaries.

United Church of Canada calls for national study and a Federal inquiry into Gambling Expansion.

May 1998 – Toronto Star articles identify overlapping involvement of key Conservative advisors, major campaign contributors, government consultants, and the gambling industry.

Brantford citizens launch Ontario Municipal Board appeal to block “charity casino”,; at 60,000 SF, two to three times bigger than originally promised by the Province.

11,000 Brantford residents sign petition opposing new mega-casino.

June 1998 – OCAGE notes that the American Gaming Association, the main US lobby group for the Gambling Industry, lists Coopers & Lybrand, LLP as a Member under it’s “Professional Services” category.

June 1998 – OCAGE calls for Minister Hodgson to initiate a public inquiry into gambling expansion, and into whether private gambling interests have had undue influence on gambling expansion policies.

June 1998 – Province quietly reaches agreement with Ontario Horse Racing Association to create 18 new “Racinos” around the province by placing 6,600 slots in racetracks.

June 1998 – Province announces cancellation of ‘charity’ casino initiative “following consultations with Ontarians” and says that any future charity casinos will require community referenda.

June 1998 – Despite cancellation of charity casinos, Ontario Lottery Corporation calls for bids on slot machines and management systems to handle up to 20,000 slots at up to 62 locations.

June 1998 – Province announces four “pilot project” charity casinos in Thunder Bay, Sault St. Marie, Brantford and Point Edward (Sarnia); promises “no expansion of charity of commercial casinos before at least the year 2000”. Each Casino to be about two to three times larger than previously promised. (up to 450 slots and 80 tables)

June 1998 – Addiction research Foundation releases study showing that Niagara Falls residents experienced a 25% to 75% increase in exposure to problems from gambling one year after the opening of Casino Niagara.

June 1998 – Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling says the number of Windsor clients with gambling problems increased 10 percent in one year. Clients earn an average of $34,000 per year and carry a $20,000 gambling debt, says CFCG.

July 1998 – New Casino Windsor (2948 slots and 135 tables) replaces temporary casino.

July 1998 – U.S. VLT supplier sues government for $48.5 million over cancellation of VLT program.

August 1998 – Ontario Jockey Club plan to install about 2500 slots at Woodbine Racetrack is rejected by City because it will create a full blown Casino; OJC commences legal action.

August 1998 – Former 3-day Roving Monte Carlo operators launch second lawsuit, claiming $520 million damages, and alleging that Queen’s Park put them out of business to claim the gambling market for itself.

September 1998 – OCAGE sends letters to all Members of Provincial Parliament, calling for a moratorium on gambling expansion to permit a study of social and economic impacts.

Members of the Canadian Council of Churches call on Federal Minister to carry out a national inquiry into the impact of gambling expansion on the public interest.

October 1998 – Court upholds Toronto position that Slots at Woodbine Racetrack would create a Casino and is in breach of Toronto zoning bylaws. Jockey Club decides to pursue further court action against city.

November 1998 – OCAGE meets with the Director of the Ontario Horse Racing Association to express concern that Slots in tracks will ultimately hurt horse related industries, to ask the OHRIA not to ignore the social and economic issues of gambling expansion.

OCAGE meets with Minister in charge of gambling, Chris Hodgson, to ask again for a moratorium on gambling expansion pending study of impacts, development of a public consultation process, entitlement to local veto, and consumer legislation to disclose information on gambling risks and odds.

Minister Hodgson confirms in writing to OCAGE that he also has “concerns about gambling in Ontario”. But he notes that “the public had the opportunity to provide input during the hearing on Bill 75”.

December 98 – Gambling Minister Chris Hodgson writes letter to warn the mayors of communities with racetrack to accept the “non-negotiable” offer of 5% of racetrack slot machine take because “the government will be proceeding with this initiative and any municipality not prepared to accept these conditions will not be part of this funding arrangement”.

12 of 18 Mayors of racetrack communities sign agreement for 5% of slot take and for province to override local zoning to allow slots.

Municipal Affairs Minister Al Leach then signs an unprecedented 13 Ministerial zoning orders, overriding local zoning to allow slots into community racetracks without a public re-zoning process.

Documents obtained by OCAGE indicated that the Ontario Lottery Corp. has already approved the allocation of 8,400 slots at 12 of 18 racetracks. Previous government statements indicated up to 6,600 slots at all 18 tracks.

Statistics Canada reports that Ontario has highest take of any province from gambling, up 134% since 1992. Increased availability of government sponsored gambling is reflected in Statscan report, which states that nationally, households with incomes under $20,000 now lose $300 per year to gambling.