There is a lot of talk around a possible OLG expansion and full service casino in London, Ontario and, somewhat foolishly, I’ve stepped into a few debates on it. Some people are morally opposed to a casino expansion, some are vehemently in favour of it while others sit on the fence, not sure what to think just yet. My opinion probably won’t change any minds and won’t set any course of action, so it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But a few people have asked me to expand on my thoughts so here it is, for what it is worth.
Personally, I am neither pro nor anti-casino. Having researched the benefits and drawbacks before voting “Yes” on the Point Edward casino referendum many years ago, and seeing the benefits that casino – which was overwhelmingly approved by the residents of Point Edward – has had on the village, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to say I am morally opposed. Like it or not, gambling is legal. Gambling facilities exist in our city and province in various forms, and it is accessible online. So unless it is outlawed completely, people are going to gamble. End of story. Does that make it right? I suppose that depends on your own, personal beliefs and values. There are many other legal ‘vices’ we could question for morality while we are at it, but the list is too long and we’d never get to the bottom of it all. So if you are one of those who feel deeply that casinos should not exist, it’s time to take a stand on them all and have gambling outlawed: period.
Now, with that said, do I want a full service casino in London? No, not particularly, and definitely not in my neighbourhood at the Western Fair District. A few people have asked me why I’m feeling so “NIMBY” about this, so here it is.
The entire reason to build a full service casino and expand on the slots that we currently have is to attract more people. Bottom line: more people = more revenue. If it wasn’t, then OLG would be content with the slots and racetrack that is currently in place at the Fairgrounds and this discussion wouldn’t be happening. Agreed? A casino expansion is about increased revenues and tapping into a perceived larger market, attracting a different set of people than those who are currently using what we have in place.
I live one block from the Western Fair District, home to the race track and OLG slots. I hear the horse races from October to May, and listen to the fall fair and all of its excitement every September. I see the traffic coming to and from the OLG slots which are open 24/7, and the increase in traffic on a Saturday for the Farmer’s Market. I deal with the increase because it is lending a vibrancy to my neighbourhood that every neighbourhood should have. You won’t hear me complain about that. But we’re talking about suddenly doubling the traffic in my “backyard”, and I deserve a say in that. As a tax paying home owner of this neighbourhood, I’m not comfortable with it and won’t make apologies for my NIMBYism. I don’t want an increase in traffic in this area that a casino could potentially bring. And – while a minor factor – I surely don’t want those bright flood lights they always seem to put outside of a casino, pointing to the sky saying “come here!”, and flashing around above head constantly. Would you?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
We have OLG slot machines that run 24/7 and are doing a good business from what I can tell. We have a race track that could do better business if we invested some time, creativity and money to generate the interest the horse racing industry had at one time. If you want to talk about jobs, there’s about 60,000 of them we could currently save right there, and with potentially less money than it will cost to do a casino expansion. So why, exactly, do we need or want this full service casino, anyway? I haven’t heard compelling numbers about how many jobs it will bring, and how much revenue it will generate to make me jump up and down in support. What kind of increases will we see in patrons and revenue over what we currently have, and how will this benefit Londoners?
Building a casino is a (costly) way for the government to try to keep money at home that is being spent elsewhere, ie: Las Vegas. Gambling is already a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada between slots, bingo, horse racing, etc. with Ontario being at the very top for total revenues generated.
Wow! The Ontario government has dollar signs in their eyes when they look at our wallets, fellow citizens!
But what they (and many others) fail to understand it seems to me is that people go to Las Vegas for the destination vacation and experience. They want to get away and the ones that go have the money to do so. They quite possibly are also ones who spend their money in Canada at casinos and slots in the interim as well, so the “if you build it they will come” mentality has a great chance to flop. It is possible that after the money is invested we won’t see a significant increase in traffic making the expansion all for naught. And hey, don’t say, “Yeah, but you don’t know that. That’s just your opinion and speculation.” I’m well aware of that, but I’m also aware that you can’t guarantee the money will flow in, so either way it’s a gamble.
The bulk of people who go to casinos, whether it be Las Vegas or Ontario, are over 60 and in many cases are taking trips with their retirement homes or seniors groups. I’m not being tongue in cheek when I say that. I’ve worked at both a casino and a race track. I live right around the corner from the Western Fair slots. I’ve seen and see those bus trips, and plenty of them! Take a stroll through the slots at the Western Fair and look at the demographic on any given afternoon. Look through the paper and see the advertisements from bus companies for trips to Casinorama and the like. It’s a big business. To make Ontario casinos a true destination, we would need to build them in multiples similar to Las Vegas with hotels and an entertainment district. And I can’t see that ever happening.
Casinos are built to keep people in, spending their money, not send them out. A casino at the Fairgrounds (or anywhere) would do just that – keep people in a contained area, pulling the slot handles or playing a card game or two. An interesting statistic to consider is that most people spend their money on slots in a casino, with a very small percentage being spent on table games. Approximately 65-70% of people who go to casinos play slot machines. So why spend the money on the expansion for approximately 6% of casino goers who will play the tables, when we already have what people want?
A casino going to the fairgrounds would likely lead to the Fair District building their own entertainment facility to bring musical or special interest acts to add appeal to the casino. But again, why do we need it? We have a world-class facility that our tax dollars helped pay for: the Budweiser Gardens. Building another entertainment facility to hold concerts etc. would take away from revenue at the Gardens and other entertainment venues in London. I’m not comfortable with that idea. So maybe downtown is the ideal place for a casino to be built so it can work with the entertainment district we already have. But I’m not convinced that’s a solution, either.
I am convinced that if anyone truly believes a casino in London will be our saving grace, whether it be in the Fair District or downtown, they are only saying it to be oppositional or head strong. Look at the financial crisis in Detroit or the unemployment rate in Windsor, and look at how the numbers of gamblers and those in poverty and addiction (gambling, drugs and alcohol) increased after the introduction of casinos there. Gambling addiction rates in these cities sit at about 5%. That’s about 5% too high, if you ask me, especially for economically depressed areas with high unemployment – just like London is. The numbers are easy to find on Google if you want to look them all up. Any rational thinking person can see it’s not a saving grace in the least and the potential for problems it creates outweighs the jobs and revenue it will generate.
Temporary construction jobs will spring up, but how many Londoners will get those jobs? Little in the way of full-time jobs will come as a result: Perhaps a handful more service people, most (if not all) working part-time, and a handful of croupier jobs for the gaming tables. My guess is that the croupier jobs will likely import from other cities where they have been laid off from their casino job, as has happened frequently in the last few years in Ontario. Just this past March, Caesars Windsor laid off 38 full and part-time unionized employees, off setting it with 4 part-time employees. Still think it’s the saving grace for jobs?
And what about the revenue? Any money is good money, I can’t argue with that. But consider this: we are already getting 5% (correct me if I’m wrong, please) of the revenue generated from the OLG from the Western Fair slots, so will the casino capacity and function increase – to appease the 6% of people who will use the tables – really make a difference in the long run? In my humble opinion, I can’t see it and I say, no. It won’t. I believe in spending money to make money, when the return looks solid. And it doesn’t look solid to me in this case.
I think this has been sold to many people as a great idea to save the city without all the facts or numbers. I might change my mind if some compelling figures were sent my way, but the figures aren’t there in my opinion. The risks outweigh the benefits, and we will pay for it in the end. Remember when bingo halls were all the rage? Where are they now?
Therefore, I say casi-NO. I just can’t see a casino being anymore viable in London than our slots and racetrack are now, and certainly don’t see it saving us from the ‘depths of despair’ and our bleak unemployment situation. It will hardly put a dent in the unemployment rate, and a significant spike in revenues very likely won’t happen. So why spend the money when it could be spent on more important things? It’s time to stay creative, London, not look for a quick – and quite possibly fallible – fix. But that’s just my 25 cent slot token: for what it is worth.