As debate continues in Hamilton over a downtown casino, a similar proposal in another Ontario city is also raising questions.
Much like Hamilton, the northern Ontario city of Sudbury already has slot machines at a racetrack on the outskirts of the city, but it’s considering allowing a full-fledged casino in the downtown core – if it includes extras like a hotel or arena.
Many Ontario cities are weighing their options after Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced plans to search for private operators to open and operate casinos, with the hope of increasing gambling revenue in the province.
But a Sudbury economist questions what cities have to gain from adding downtown casinos.
Laurentian University economics professor David Robinson said a casino would funnel money to the province more than it would bring dollars to Sudbury, unless a casino attracts tourists – something he questions under the OLG expansion plan.
"Once you put them in every major city they're no longer a tourist attraction," Robinson said.
"It’s exactly like the trick of lowering your taxes to attract new businesses. If you do it, you get new businesses. If everybody does it, everybody's poorer."
Sudbury’s mayor maintains a new casino complex in the downtown would benefit the city through the amenities that would come with it.
Debate continues in Hamilton
Drawing tourists would be critical for a new casino in Hamilton to be successful, said Hannah Holmes, an economist at McMaster University.
'The honest answer is it’s all going to depend.'—Hannah Holmes, McMaster economics professor
"You need to have an inflow of tourist money. You don’t want residents who are spending their money locally anyway just redirecting their spending," she said.
That could be a challenge for Hamilton, with an established casino just down the highway in Niagara Falls, Holmes said. Plus, the impact is difficult to predict with so many proposals elsewhere in the province under consideration.
"The honest answer is it’s all going to depend. There are just so many external factors that could come into play," Holmes said.
"I don’t think anybody can really put a concrete estimate on the impact of a casino."
There has not been any formal research done regarding the effects of a casino on tourism at this point in the process, said Norm Schleehahn, Manager of Business Development for the City of Hamilton.
Downtown casino still an option
Hamilton city councillors have left the possibility of a downtown casino open. They passed a motion stating that they are only willing to consider a casino at the Flamboro Downs location, unless the race track is found to be "not a viable site."
Holmes said locating a casino at Flamboro Downs is more attractive economically because it could also help support jobs in the horse racing industry.
While Hamilton grapples with where to put a new casino, Toronto is still considering whether it wants one.
MGM Resorts International has unveiled a proposal for a massive casino complex in downtown Toronto, featuring a 1,200-room hotel and a shopping mall, at a cost of up to $4 billion. It’s one of several possibilities in the Greater Toronto Area.
Toronto city council is expected to make a decision this spring about whether it wants a casino.
Meanwhile, the communities of Kitchener and Waterloo voted this week to hold public consultations into attracting a casino to their respective cities.
Barrie already out
One Ontario city has already said no to expanding gambling. City council in Barrie has turned down the idea of a downtown casino.
Barrie already has slot machines at the nearby Georgian Downs racetrack.
After six weeks of public consultation, Barrie councilors decided a downtown casino presented too many concerns about social problems, and could endanger existing jobs at Georgian Downs.
OLG has identified 29 gaming zones in the province where new or existing facilities may be permitted. They require municipal approval and private operators who are interested in developing the projects.