Ontario is set to debut legal iGaming sites with interactive slot machines and table games on April 4. At least one provincial lawmaker is siding with the land-based commercial casino industry in believing online gambling’s introduction is coming at a most inopportune time.
Canada’s largest brick-and-mortar casino operator — Great Canadian Gaming (GCG) — isn’t against Ontario authorizing iGaming. But the company believes the proposed 20% tax on gross gaming revenue (GGR) generated online will put land-based casinos, which are taxed at 55%, at a competitive disadvantage.
Member of Provincial Parliament Lisa Gretzky (NDP-Windsor West), who is the cousin-in-law of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, agrees that iCasinos pose significant threats to the established gaming industry. Gretzky argues that internet gambling should be placed on hold until all furloughed brick-and-mortar employees have been asked to return.
They have to make sure that the workers that are currently off get called back, that those jobs are secure,” Gretzky said. “Indigenous leaders, workers, unions, chambers of commerce, and mayors across the province are asking for the provincial government to not implement iGaming without the assurance that the thousands of land-based casino workers will be called back immediately.”
Ontario casinos only became free of COVID-19 operating limitations imposed by the provincial government late last month.
Unifor, Canada’s largest union, says roughly 1,000 casino workers in Ontario remain off the job. Unifor is worried that many of those positions will never be called back with iGaming poaching brick-and-mortar play.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and First Nation indigenous leaders who run tribal casinos have lent their support to efforts to delay internet gambling’s launch. The growing coalition has called on Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey to coordinate a review of the iGaming tax and suspend the pending April 4 launch in the interim.
The group says Ontario’s internet gaming framework should better incorporate brick-and-mortar casinos instead of just welcoming in fully online operators. The alliance points to legal iGaming in the US, where online platforms must partner with land-based casinos.
The consequences of allowing iGaming to flourish at the expense of retail casinos, Gretzky contends, are severe.
“Land-based casinos return 55% of net gambling profits to the Ontario treasury. Billions of dollars that go towards our publicly funded health care, our education, infrastructure … as well as transfers to our municipalities for municipally funded services,” Gretzky said.
An economic review on the potential negative consequences dealt with brick-and-mortar casinos from iGaming’s launch suggests that Ontario’s government should expect CA$3 billion less in land-based gaming taxes over the next five years. The study, which was commissioned by Great Canadian Gaming, also projects 2,500 direct job losses during the next half-decade.
Ontario’s 28 physical casinos invested significant amounts of capital over the past two years to keep their businesses open as much as possible, per government orders. Caesars Windsor, for example, says it spent more than $1 million on plexiglass alone.
Proponents of legal iGaming counter that authorizing online casino sites will simply provide a regulated framework for players currently betting over the internet on offshore platforms. Interactive firms like DraftKings content that iGaming will not significantly poach play from retail operations.