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Ontario Turns To Gambling To Pay The Bills

April 30, 1992

TORONTO (AP) _ The Ontario government, having squeezed as much money as it dares out of its own taxpayers, is going after American dollars by opening casinos along the border.

The idea had spread quickly in recent weeks and was included in Premier Bob Rae’s provincial budget Thursday. Some border cities have big plans for luring Americans into their web.

″I’m very much in favor of the provincial government allowing casino gambling in Ontario,″ said a happy Mike Hurst, mayor of Windsor, a city of 200,000 just across the river from Detroit.

″There can’t possibly be a better location than Windsor. Within five hours by car we have access to almost 50 million people.″

Niagara Falls Mayor Wayne Thomson said his city opposed a similar idea a decade ago when Niagara Falls, N.Y. was considering casino gambling, but he said ″the economy and times have changed.″

A Cabinet document leaked to the press earlier suggested six possible casino sites: Niagara Falls, Windsor, Sarnia, Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto and Ottawa.

Casinos already operate in British Columbia, where they netted $194 million in 1990-91, and there is one in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Some fear casino gambling will attract organized crime, prostitution and other problems. The horseracing industry, charitable organizations and amateur sports, which rely on bingo and raffles, also think it will be tough to compete with government-organized gambling.

Legal gambling in various forms already is a $4 billion industry in Ontario.

″The biggest danger is that widening the gambling scope in Ontario will undoubtedly increase the number of people who will involve themselves in gambling, therefore increasing the number of those developing into compulsive pathological gamblers,″ said Tibor Barsony, head of the Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling.

Art critic Christopher Hume had another view: ″Everyone knows the province is going broke, but here’s a government that kills the Ballet-Opera House, allows numerous cultural institutions to languish, then okays gambling casinos. Talk about skewed priorities. Especially for a party of so-called social democrats.″

Rae has dismissed opposition to the plan.

″We’ve had bingo and lottery in this province for years,″ he said earlier this week. ″We’ve had horseracing in this province for decades. What’s the big deal?″

The new provincial budget hiked taxes on personal income, used cars and alcohol and some services. It also increased charges for various licenses and services.

But even with tax hikes and spending cuts, provincial revenues fell $9.9 billion short of expenditures.

The government is hoping the new gambling houses will bring in $100 million to $150 million a year.

″The government will establish casinos by working with interested communities and consulting with charitable and other organizations,″ provincial Treasurer Floyd Laughren said in his budget speech. ″In addition to the tourism and employment benefits, this measure will provide the province with new revenues.″

″We have a plan,″ said Hurst, Windsor’s mayor. ″We are ready to go. We have the property assembled. We have a developer. We have an existing casino committee.″

″Organized crime seems to be the biggest potential concern,″ he said. ″But I’m of the view it’s controllable.″

Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Joe Fratesi insisted that the casino question is an economic issue, not a moral one.

″It’s better than the backroom games that probably already happen all over the city,″ he said.

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