“There will be no ifs, ands or buts about it – there would be no reason for Sudbury Downs to continue to operate if a casino is built in Sudbury,” Patrick MacIsaac told Northern Life in an exclusive interview.
MacIsaac and the 90 or so people directly employed at Sudbury Downs have been shrouded in uncertainty since the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation first announced it will end its Slots At Racetracks revenue-sharing program with the province's racetracks. That's in addition to the thousands of people across the province, including 400-500 people in the immediate area.
Then, in mid-May, OLG announced it was looking at the private sector to step forward if they are interested in building casinos. Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci was quick to back the idea, with the grand vision of it being built in the downtown core, if and when Sudbury is chosen as a location.
“I can think of no better entertainment opportunity that will attract a large number of people on a daily basis to regenerate the downtown in such a dramatic way,” Bartolucci told Northern Life in a May 17 interview. “I would think that since it’s a casino, you’re looking not only at slot machines, but also tables.”
Indeed, many officials have commented on the benefits of building a casino in the downtown, MacIsaac said. However, the facts are totally contrary to the vision that is being presented.
“If the objective of this vision is a higher level of revenue generation to the province by establishing casinos in more convenient locations, then fine, but don't misrepresent what the result will be just to accomplish that goal.”
A report commissioned by the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre in 2006 looked at six casinos in the province, located in five different communities. Researchers surveyed 7,226 casino patrons from Brantford, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Point Edward, Sarnia and Gananoque. Participation was voluntary, but response rates were high – from 79 per cent to 84 per cent.
A major component of the survey was to determine whether, and to what extent, a gaming venue is able to attract outside visitors – a key factor in estimating the impact of a casino on the economy of a local area, according to the study.
Overall, 58 per cent of patrons indicated they lived in the community hosting the charity casino, and another 11 per cent came from the surrounding county. In Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay specifically, the numbers were 87 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, meaning only 13 per cent and 10 per cent of patrons respectively travelled from outside of the host community to attend the casino.
Further, the study states that only one-fifth of the 13 per cent from outside Sault Ste. Marie, and one-tenth of the 10 per cent from outside Thunder Bay, were attracted to visit those communities because of the casino. The result is that for every 100 patrons at these casinos, only 2.5 patrons in Sault Ste. Marie and one patron in Thunder Bay came to town because of the casino.
In view of these numbers, it is difficult to understand how a similar-sized casino in Sudbury could possibly be considered as a tourist attraction that will bring substantial new tourist revenue to the community, MacIsaac said.
At most sites, seven out of 10 visitor patrons (persons not residing in the host community) said they had not spent, nor did they intend to spend, any money in the city (outside of the charity casino).
The report suggests through its results that the casinos in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie are not as successful in attracting visitors who are interested in gambling. Only 11 per cent of visitor patrons in Thunder Bay and 20 per cent of patrons in Sault Ste. Marie stated the main purpose of their visit to the community was to attend the casino.
“Downtown casinos are everywhere, and it's easy to see the result,” MacIsaac told Northern Life. “I think people should have realistic expectations and base their decisions on the facts. If, at the end of that, they decide they think the casino should be there, then that's the way it is, and whether we agree with it or not is irrelevant.”
Sudbury Downs is primed for a casino. In addition to the 11,000 square feet of gaming floor already located at the racetrack, there is another 11,000 square feet directly below it that has been cleared for more gaming. MacIsaac said as part of the original agreement with OLG and the Slots At Racetracks Program, Sudbury Downs was required to prepare double the amount of space in the event OLG decided to expand.
This space would be more than adequate to house the casino, he added, given that OLG is looking at casinos that can accommodate up to 600 slot machines and the possibility of tables. Currently, Sudbury Downs has 390 slot machines.
That being said, MacIsaac said he hasn't formulated what approach Sudbury Downs is going to take with the process the government has put in place to determine where it will build casinos, but “we think we have a logical, practical and potentially successful location for a casino.”
One thing he does know for certain, though, is that if Sudbury Downs doesn't have any participation in the gaming industry beyond parimutuel (betting), then racing won't exist.
“These aren't pleasant options,” he said. “This is a pretty critical issue for 400 or 500 people in the area who rely on horse racing to make a living.”
Posted by Mark Gentili