Online Gaming Could Mean $500 Million Jackpot for Ontario Coffers

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Aug/09/2010

 

Robert Benzie, The Star (Ontario)

Legalized online gambling in Ontario could mean a $500 million annual windfall to the cash-strapped provincial government, Liberal sources say.

But Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak warns Ontario taxpayers should be leery if Premier Dalton McGuinty bets on Internet gaming here.

As the Star disclosed on Saturday, McGuinty’s administration, which is wrestling with a $19.7 billion budget deficit, is “exploring” the possibility of expanding the gambling industry.

Insiders say the move is designed to “repatriate” hundreds of millions of dollars that Ontario gamblers bet offshore every year from the comfort of their computer keyboards.

Government sources said Monday that the bonanza could be an additional $500 million a year on top of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s (OLG) $1.9 billion profit in 2009.

In February, OLG chairman Paul Godfrey, retained by McGuinty to fix problems at the troubling gambling monopoly, said the province had to look online for future growth.

“It’s something that I would explore . . . (because) money is going out of this province to other provinces as well as offshore sites,” Godfrey said at the time.

“The fact is that it’s there at the present time all around us.”

But Hudak, who has praised Godfrey’s appointment at OLG, expressed concern that the Liberals may push forward with online gambling.

“Who is going to trust Dalton McGuinty to run an online casino?” the Tory leader told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday.

“Listen, this guy has had two consecutive major scandals at the OLGC, they’ve gone through five CEOs, they can’t run the existing casinos let Internet gambling,” he said, referring to suspicious insider lottery wins and other problems.

“They have a voracious appetite for more and more tax dollars. They can’t control the OLGC as it is. This will be a disaster if Dalton McGuinty is running an online casino.”

Stung by offshore websites cashing in on the demand for Internet gaming, governments around the work have been legalizing online betting.

British Columbia, which last month became the first province or state in North America to offer legalized online casino gambling, has estimated it was losing $100 million to illegal websites abroad.

Proceeds from its new website, www.playnow.com, will help fund schools and hospitals. Like Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are closely watching how online gambling plays in B.C.

While the Liberals are enticed by the lure of additional revenue, the governing party is mindful that many Ontarians, already uneasy with existing casinos, would oppose Internet betting.

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