TORONTO – Ontario should scrap its “empire-building” plans for more casinos and online gambling and focus instead on bolstering the horse-racing industry, the Progressive Conservatives said Thursday.
They wouldn’t reinstate the slots-at-racetracks program that brought in $345-million a year if they formed the next government, the Tories said.
But race operators, who are still reeling from the Liberals’ decision to cancel the program, should be able to buy existing slot operations at “fair market value.”
It could save an industry that employs about 60,000 people, the party said in its so-called “white paper” on rural and agricultural affairs.
Shelving the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s plans for online gambling and building 29 new casinos in places like Toronto won’t cost the province new revenue or new jobs, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak argued.
The province still needs a “pro-jobs agenda” that will re-ignite the economy and draw investment in the face of a $12-billion deficit, but more gambling is not the solution, he said.
“I think in fact closing down racetrack slots across this province is going to compound that problem by tossing 65,000 people out of work,” Hudak said.
He also slammed the province’s plans to set up online betting by the end of the year, which the governing Liberals say will bring in much-needed money.
It’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, Hudak said.
“I just think that what the Wynne government is doing is not a jobs plan, it’s a tax plan,” he said. “And I think it’s an effort to increase taxes that will result in about 65,000 job losses across our province.”
Gambling should be handed over to private operators, with the government acting as a regulator only, he said.
But that would also eliminate a large source of revenue for the province, said New Democrat Taras Natyshak.
Hudak is talking out of both sides of his mouth, he said.
“In one breath, he says he wants to stop the government from ramming casinos into communities that don’t want them,” said Natyshak, whose party opposes the OLG’s casino expansion plans.
“But on the other hand, he’s promising to privatize all gaming and gambling and let the Donald Trumps of the world decide where to build casinos.”
The Liberals are advocating “privatization by stealth,” allowing private operators to run all OLG facilities and finance the corporation’s expansion over the next few years.
Currently, only four facilities — Casino Rama, Caesars Windsor, Niagara Fallsview and Great Blue Heron charity casino — are privately run.
As for his plan for slots, all the Tories would be doing is ensuring the viability of a racetrack, Nayshak said. It does nothing for the horse-racing side.
But the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association praised the Tories’ proposal.
“Horse racing needs to play a prominent role in any gaming strategy in order for our industry to survive and to continue playing an important economic role as it does in rural Ontario,” president Sue Leslie said in a statement.
Last week, the Liberals announced the sector would be integrated into a provincial gambling strategy with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to find new revenue streams.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said they’d reached “transition funding” agreements with six racetracks, and is negotiating with eight others.
The gambling proposals are among a number of ideas the Tories are floating in a series of so-called white papers. But it’s not official party policy.
The paper proposes to wind down the feed-in-tariff program for wind and solar energy projects and give part of the gas tax to all rural municipalities.
The Tories are also floating a two per cent biodiesel mandate for all diesel sold in the province, a new regional food terminal and an increase in the amount of Ontario-grown food bought by the broader public sector.