THUNDER BAY – While many are set to celebrate the OLG Casino in Thunder Bay and salute its ten anniversary in our city, I guess my view is that the costs to Thunder Bay when stacked up beside the net benefits, the scale is not as balanced as it should, or even could be.
That might be reason some of the political leaders who were behind the original agreement are out sharing with the public what a wise decision the casino coming to Thunder Bay was ten years ago. What else could they do? Afterall in a way the Casino is a part of the political legacy of many of our region’s politicians.
The City of Thunder Bay has received $23.8 million from the OLG over the past ten years. That works out to just over $2.3 million a year in revenues. As well the Casino states that they have spent $18 million in our city, or $1.8 million a year.
In addition, the OLG shares how they have put back into the community through sponsorships of local events.
There are, however, no figures on how much money the “Charity Casino” has pulled out of local charities, but if you consider that there are many local service clubs who have had to struggle to sell tickets for their draws, the casino is likely one of the reasons why.
There is only so many dollars that people can spend and where and how they spend it determines our economy.
There are also no figures on the social cost of the casino’s impact on people who might gamble too much of their money away in the hopes of getting rich.
Ever notice that a gamble will share with you how much they won, but rarely how much it cost to win their prize? The unknown cost to families and individuals in our city from the Casino is hard to calculate, but it can be perhaps seen in increased food bank demand, and increased social problems.
Further, in celebrating the Casino’s anniversary, none of our public officials are commenting on the lack of tour buses that Thunder Bay was assured would stream to our city bringing added tourism revenues.
When the vast majority of money the facility rakes in is from local residents, in a way all the Casino really is, one can argue is a tax on greed and a means of keeping money flowing to government coffers.
The direct revenue from the OLG to the City is one topic that city officials all appear willing to agree is not enough. Frankly, it isn’t, and that the OLG does not seem all that willing to sit down to fix that problem isn’t all that encouraging.
Especially now with the McGuinty Liberals heading off to harvest online gambling dollars. Thunder Bay isn’t likely to see much, if any money, from those who might use the online gambling option that the OLG is looking to implement.
For Thunder Bay the prospect that people will be soon able to gamble at the OLG online means that likely the local revenue will drop over time.
Personally, I think the real issue is a lack of planning coupled with a shortfall in leadership over the past decade. Instead of planning for success, once voters agreed on the city having a casino, the move was to put in as small a facility as possible.
Contrast the Thunder Bay Casino with some of the other OLG Casinos. What could have been offered and likely worked out for the city in a better manner would have been attaching a hotel and meeting centre to the casino.
As long as ten years ago, Fort William Gardens was nearing the end of its useful life.
It could have been a natural to look at making the casino a part of a multiplex, including a new arena and a hotel. Not doing that meant the tour buses that could have come have not.
The simple logic of that kind of decision can be seen by the bus tours leaving Thunder Bay for Grande Portage Lodge and Casino, and other casino destinations.
Today, there remains a lack of co-ordination with the casino. Even the Waterfront Development in the downtown core isn’t connected to the OLG Casino. It actually could be, if Thunder Bay were to examine the idea of a “Plus 15” walkway system like in Calgary.
Such a system would allow an indoor walkway which in winter would be far better than having to walk outside in the chilly winter weather. The OLG would likely be a source for the funding to pay for such a walkway too. It would be beneficial to all concerned.
With Ice Edge Holdings now looking to Thunder Bay as a site for a new professional hockey team, there is the possibility for a major tenant for a multiplex.
For Thunder Bay, the time is right, but it is really important to get it right too. Putting the new multiplex in downtown Port Arthur as the hub between the waterfront development, the casino and the Prince Arthur Hotel would likely ensure success in the entire district.
That of course is just my opinion, as always, your mileage may differ.