A spokesperson with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission confirmed Monday that a tender calling for bids to build casinos in the northern gaming bundle won't be issued this year, and will instead go out sometime “in the coming months.”
“For OLG, modernization continues, but we see this as a five-year, provincewide program,” Tony Bitonti wrote in an email from storm-ravaged southern Ontario. “It's a massive undertaking, involving a complex, multi-year procurement process. There are also multiple stakeholders, including all three levels of government, thousands of employees and thousands of vendors.
“This requires significant due diligence so, as I mentioned, we will be issuing RFPs and the remaining RFPQs in the coming months.”
Announced in the waning days of the government of former Premier Dalton McGuinty, the OLG's original plan called for an end to the revenue-sharing agreement with Ontario's racetracks in favour of operating standalone casinos in 29 gaming zones.
The goal was to release the request for proposals by the end of 2012, following a multi-stage process in which operators would pre-qualify for a chance to bid on the casino project. The OLG estimated modernization would add as much as $1.3 billion to the provincial treasury, and came up with new revenue-sharing formula with municipalities that would give them more, as well.
The northern gaming zone – which includes Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay Kenora – was bundled together, so that anyone who wanted to build would have to commit to operating facilities in all of those communities. Potential bidders -- such as Caesar’s Palace – came to Sudbury to talk with local leaders and look at potential locations. Sudbury city council passed a motion calling for the winning bidder to consider a convention centre and a new OHL arena as part of their casino-building plan.
However, the political fallout of ending the revenue-sharing agreement with racetracks hurt the governing Liberals, particularly in rural ridings. When Premier Kathleen Wynne came to power in January 2013, her government began to backtrack on the process, and signed deals with the tracks to provide them with transitional funding, along with promises of longer-term support.
Communities such as Toronto and Vaughan turned down casinos, and by October, the OLG was no longer talking about building a casino in Sudbury. Instead, Bitonti said once an operator is chosen, they would operate out of Sudbury Downs in Chelmsford.
“Once they take over, it's not automatic that facility is going to move,” Bitonti said at the time. “Whoever it is has to take over the existing gaming sites – in Sudbury, it's Sudbury Downs. Then settle in for a little bit, and then start looking at what they want to do – do they want to relocate, to they want to stay there ...”
The operator, the municipality and the OLG all have to agree before the facility would relocate, he added.
“The operator will then start that discussion and see if they have a good business case to move that facility,” Bitonti said. “Do we need to build a hotel? Do we need to expand? Do we need to relocate, in some cases?”
Despite the delays, Bitonti said they still planned to issue the request for proposals for the northern zone before the end of the year. But on Monday, he said getting it right was more important than sticking to a deadline.
“This is not like golf, where you can take a mulligan,” Bitonti wrote. “We have to get it right on the first shot and OLG will take the necessary time to successfully implement modernization.”