As Premier Doug Ford’s government prepares to open up Ontario’s online gambling market, there is a warning that its plans could see the province and municipalities lose hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
This warning is found in a new report from a gaming industry consulting firm, obtained by TBEN News. The report was prepared for Great Canadian Gaming, the company with the largest casino market share in Ontario.
Although Ontario will have a new source of revenue by taxing newly regulated online gambling sites, the report argues that the province will end up being harmed. This is because he predicts a big shift in spending from land-based casinos to internet gambling.
Because the tax rate Ontario should impose on online gambling sites is far lower than the percentage the government takes from casino spending, the report concludes the province stands to lose $550 million in revenue. . annually for a total of $2.8 billion over the period. next five years.
Before the pandemic, annual provincial revenues from lotteries and gambling were $2.5 billion.
But companies involved in the online gambling industry say the report’s findings are flawed.
In particular, they challenge the key assumption underlying the report: that existing casino customers will suddenly start spending far less money in casinos and more on the online gambling sites already available to them. .
“When the regulated market opens in Ontario, nothing will change when it comes to player entertainment habits,” said Jeffrey Haas, senior vice president of DraftKings Inc., which offers online sports betting and casino products. . online based in the United States.
“People who gamble in online casinos, online sportsbooks and online poker rooms will continue to do so, except they will switch from offshore gambling to onshore gambling,” he said in an interview. . . “And anyone who continues to enter real casinos to play games will continue to do so.”
Great Canadian Gaming officials declined TBEN’s request for comment on the report’s findings.
HLT Advisory Inc.’s report, titled Assessing the Gambling Market in Ontario, is labeled “Private and Confidential” and dated Jan. 11.
He says the government’s proposed “open license” model for online gaming will allow online sites to more than triple their share of Ontario’s overall gaming market, estimated at around $7 billion a year.
“If an open license electronic gaming model is implemented in Ontario, the electronic casino would capture a significant share of the total casino market,” the report states, basing this conclusion largely on the experience of the United Kingdom after the opening of its electronic game. market in 2005.
Land-based casinos in Ontario are currently required to return 55% of net gaming proceeds to the province. The Ford government has yet to announce what percentage it will levy on regulated online gambling sites, but the report bases its assumptions on a 20% tax rate, which industry sources say is probably correct.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, who is responsible for Ontario’s internet gambling regime, declined an interview request.
Ontarians spend up to $1 billion a year to gamble online
Ontario casinos have been hammered during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were completely closed for months, and when they were allowed to reopen they faced capacity limits. Border travel restrictions also meant that casinos in cities like Niagara Falls and Windsor were deprived of their American customers.
All casinos in Ontario are currently closed under the province’s latest restrictions, introduced on January 3 as a result of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Industry figures estimate that Ontarians spend about $500 million a year on internet gambling, almost entirely on companies that operate outside of Canada. The provincial government puts the figure at $1 billion.
Sites such as PokerStars, JackpotCity and Bet99 advertise heavily to the Ontario public, and there’s nothing stopping Ontario residents from gambling online at sites based in other jurisdictions.
Last July, the government announced the creation of iGames Ontario, the agency that will oversee online gambling offered by companies that sign agreements with the province.
TBEN News has asked the Ministry of Finance to provide its forecast for the impact online gambling will have on the province’s revenue.
The province did not include electronic games in its financial projections, but more information may come in the next budget, ministry spokesman Scott Blodgett said.
“The government intends to establish a competitive market for legal online gambling that will reflect consumer choice while minimizing risk to consumers who gamble on these websites,” Blodgett said in an e -mail.
“The new iGaming marketplace is being developed to exist alongside on-site gaming activity in the regulated Ontario market, and not interfere with [Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s] revenue generation.”
How much online gaming will reduce casino revenue in Ontario is a hotly debated question, says Paul Burns, president of the Canadian Gaming Association, which represents companies from all sectors, including land-based operators. and Internet.
“Drawing comparisons between different markets in different jurisdictions” may not be an accurate picture of what will happen when Ontario begins to regulate online gambling, Burns said in an interview.
“Online gambling is [in Ontario], it’s just not regulated, it’s not controlled. It is not subject to the same regulatory standards that casinos are held to,” he said.
Ontario’s casino operators want to play a part in online gambling and a level playing field with online casino operators only, Burns said.
“They’re eager to be able to participate and compete and create an opportunity for their own customers who can play on other people’s sites, to try and bring them back into their business,” he said.
The consultant’s report predicts that the changes will lead to a 25% reduction in the land-based casino workforce, resulting in the loss of some 2,500 jobs.
“I am deeply concerned about the impact this is going to have on jobs, but also the overall impact on our communities and our province,” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the union that represents most of the 10,000 casino employees. in Ontario.
“From a jobs standpoint or from an economic strategy standpoint, it’s a fool’s game,” Dias said in an interview. “That does not make any sense.”
Ontario municipalities that host casinos would also lose $35 million to $40 million in annual revenue, according to the consultant’s report.
“There is cause for concern, but we’re not overly concerned,” said Dave Ryan, the mayor of Pickering, Ont., where a casino with 2,400 slot machines opened last summer. of Highway 401. The municipality should receive $14 million in revenue per year.
“We believe there will always be room for bricks and mortar play,” he said in an interview. “We are social animals. People like to go out and get together and enjoy that experience. Plus, there’s the entertainment factor that you don’t get online.