Municipalities betting on casino revenue to address deficits out of luck
LONDON, ONT. -- Casinos and slots across southwestern Ontario will remain closed, despite permission to open during Stage 3.
“It has been a challenge with the 50-person capacity. It really comes down to economic viability,” explains Paul Burns, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association.
Burns says the province’s decision to limit occupancy in enclosed spaces to 50 people is too few to cover operating costs for most gaming sites.
In London, each day the 755 slots and e-table games at Western Fair sit idle costs city hall its share of gaming revenue.
“That’s dramatic. That’s has a dramatic impact on our budget,” says Mayor Ed Holder. “We generate about $4.5 million in terms of revenues as a result of the Gateway Casino (games).”
By the end of August, London city hall projects it will face a $13.5 million budget deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lost revenue from slots accounts for about $2.5 million of the shortfall. And the economic impacts extend beyond city hall.
When the province ordered gaming facilities to close on March 16, Gateway Casinos employed about 350 people at its Western Fair site.
Construction of a new casino complex on Wonderland Road has been paused until Gateway can reopen its other locations in Ontario.
On Monday, casino operators will make a pitch to public health officials in Ontario to permit more than 50 patrons if they follow new procedures established by the industry. But even if the industry is successful, gaming won’t return immediately.
“Casinos will probably need a couple weeks if capacities are increased to get prepared to be open", Burns says. Holder adds, “The message is safety first.”