Anti-casino lobby signs up nearly 200 businesses in Sudbury

Nearly 200 Sudbury businesses have joined a new lobby group aiming to keep a new casino from coming to town. Casino Free Sudbury believes an expanded gambling complex on the Kingsway will be bad for the local economy.

Plans call for new $60 million casino on the Kingsway, with some 250 new jobs

The Casino Free Sudbury group is hoping to convince city council and the province to abandon plans for a new casino in the city. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

A lobby group called Casino Free Sudbury says it has signed up nearly 200 businesses who are against an expanded casino in the city.

Gateway Casinos is planning to replace the 18-year-old slots at Sudbury Downs with a new $60 million gambling complex on the Kingsway, employing as many as 250 people.

Sudbury tech entrepreneur Tom Fortin, who runs the manufacturing firm OnTrak, is hoping to convince the province and city council that a new casino will hurt not help the local economy.

"Social problems do involve economics. Because social problems make the cost of hiring people in casino towns a little bit higher," says Fortin.

He says his list of supporters includes everything from a small neighbourhood restaurant to large mining companies.

It includes Maestro Mine Ventilation and Synergy Controls, two small mining technology companies run and partly owned by Michael Gribbons.

"I frankly don't know if it's going to change their minds, but as a concerned citizen and business owner, I have to speak out about it," he says.

"It is great for the government. They are taking taxes out of the community."

Sudbury businessman Tom Fortin is the driving force between the new lobby group Casino Free Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

Fortin is hoping to sign up enough businesses to convince the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce to come out against a casino.

He's hoping that will convince the city and provincial governments to give up on their expansion plans, which could be an uphill battle since the province hasn't strayed from its casino modernization plans over the last five years.

Greater Sudbury city council has repeatedly reaffirmed its support for hosting a casino since the slots at Sudbury Downs first opened in 1999.

"I don't think they'll be able to ignore us," says Fortin.

Robert Mitchell, director of communications and public affairs for Gateway Casinos, says the new Kingsway casino will be a "unique attraction" in northern Ontario.

"I'm disappointed to hear that," he says of the lobbying efforts. "I think we're going to be very good for the community of Sudbury."

Mitchell says people in Ontario are used to the old "slots in a box" model such as at Sudbury Downs, but says Gateway's business plan is more of an entertainment complex, with restaurants and bars that become part of the community.

"We build entertainment facilities," Mitchell says.