Ads promoting the value of slots and casinos are appearing in Hamilton movie theatres.
Local silver screens are showing two-minute ads from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) before movies. One tells the story of Innisfil's community centre, which was built in part with slots revenue from Georgian Downs.
“Innisfil invested proceeds from their OLG Gaming Centre into building a community centre,” reads the Innisfil ad, which features a woman who used the centre for recreation and rehabilitation following a car crash.
The ads are part of a province-wide campaign that has cost about $164,000 so far, said Tony Bitonti, OLG spokesperson.
The campaign includes movie theatre ads across Ontario, Bitonti said. It also includes 30-second TV spots and a series of radio and print ads.
In addition to Innisfil, there are ads about downtown Brantford and a hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, which are two projects that also benefited from slots dollars.
“We really do have a responsibility to make sure the people of Ontario know where the money goes,” Bitonti said.
Hamilton has been debating the issue of a casino since the OLG embarked on a modernization plan earlier this year. The province eliminated the Slots at Racetracks program, which sees the OLG operate 801 slots at Flamboro Downs. Those slots will continue until at least the end of March.
The OLG has asked Hamilton city council to pass a resolution saying it welcomes gaming throughout the city, not just at Flamboro Downs. If the city approves, it could mean gaming in the form of a new casino.
The theatre ad “represents fairly well the feeling in our community about our recreation centre,” said Mayor Barb Baguley of Innisfil, a town on the western shore of Lake Simcoe.
But Innisfil, like Hamilton, has been wrestling with the future of its slots, which provide about $4.27 million to the town each year.
Town council agreed to continue being a host municipality this fall, and signed an agreement with the OLG in late November. Its share of the revenue jumps to $5.187 million if the town remains a host municipality, the Barrie Examiner reported.
The town hopes that the slots remain at Georgian Downs, Baguley said.
“It's hard on our community because we don't know what's going to happen, both from a municipal perspective and for the folks who work there,” she said. “Everyone's a little uncertain.”
Hamilton's public health unit is expected to present a report on the potential health impacts of a casino at a board of health meeting Monday afternoon. City council has until late February to make a decision.
The OLG sent out a request for pre-qualification (RFPQ) for operators on Nov. 30 for eastern and northern Ontario. It expects to send out an RFPQ for the Hamilton zone early in the new year, Bitonti said.
Innisfil has used its slots dollars on capital projects such as renovations to its town hall and police station, and building a library.
Hamilton receives about $4.4 million per year from its slots at Flamboro Downs. The money has been used on a drainage channel project in Flamborough and reducing that ward's tax levy. Since 2008, it has gone into the general budget, reducing taxes by about 0.7 per cent.