Says it's time to look for another way to pay for convention centre
Mayor Marianne Matichuk told reporters Tuesday that two years of big talk about casino operators interested in Sudbury has produced nothing but failed expectations.
“We've been talking about it for years. It's something we do need. But now I think it's time we look at some other plans with respect to a convention centre. We'll have to talk to some hotels and stuff, because if we wait for the OLG, they just keep postponing stuff. I understand (why), but it's not helping us.”
Announced with great fanfare in spring 2012, the modernization plan was projected to boost revenue to the province to $4.6 billion a year. It ended the Slots at Racetracks Program — devastating the provincial horse racing industry — in favour of an ambitious casino-building program in more than two dozen gaming zones across Ontario.
But Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said the OLG tried to go too far, too fast, and was too optimistic in what it could achieve in such a short period of time.
“OLG developed its Modernization Plan without sufficiently consulting such stakeholders as municipalities and the horse-racing industry,” Lysyk said. “The profit estimates should have been more realistic, and the abrupt impact on the horseracing industry could have been mitigated had more people been consulted beforehand.”
On March 31, the OLG lowered its original projection of gaming profits by 48 per cent, from $4.6 billion to about $2.4 billion. In her report, Lysyk estimates the true reduction could be “as much as $2.8 billion,” or about 60 per cent less than forecast.
Much of the original revenue forecast assumed casinos would be built in Toronto and Ottawa, but those municipalities said no. And Lysyk was critical of Queen's Park for abruptly ending the $347 million revenue stream from gaming that Ontario's horse racing industry depended on to survive.
“Initially, there was no plan to provide any transition and support funding for the industry,” she wrote. “After an outcry from the horseracing industry and affected communities, the government introduced new transition and support funding.”
While most tracks have signed on to the five-year, $500 million transition plan, talks are still ongoing at Sudbury Downs on whether there will be racing this year. With the first race date tentatively scheduled for May 24, a decision is expected soon.
In a recent interview, OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said despite the delays, the casino plan for Sudbury is still in the works.
“We're going to be issuing the RFPs shortly for some of the gaming areas,” Bitonti said. “I can't tell you which, because it's a closely held secret. So modernization is moving forward.
“Once the RFPs are issued, the next announcement will be who the operators will be.”
But Matichuk said she's heard that song before.
“I don't know if it's ever going to work with the OLG,” she said. “Every time, it's, 'it will be a couple of weeks after that,' and then 'it's 'a couple of weeks after that.' … There always seems to be something holding it up. So sometimes you just have to look another way.”
There was strong interest in the private sector in the Sudbury casino, Matichuk said, with several potential operators and investors regularly visiting to meet with city staff.
“I think there were 23 combinations of hotels, people with land, people with casinos – but it's totally quieted down,” she said. “That being said, if somebody's interested building a hotel and a convention centre, you know what? We're interested. I'll put that out there.
“We need to go start hammering on some doors of hotels and say, listen, we need a four-star hotel in this city – what can you bring to the table? What can we bring to the table? Let's get this thing done.”