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Casino operators and First Nations concerned over iGaming launch

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There are only two weeks left until Ontarians will be able to gamble online in a legal market outside of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).

Online casinos are set to go live come April, giving people the ability to gamble from the comfort of their own home. But wagering a bet on this game is something not everyone is aces wild for. Some advocates say it could be detrimental to brick-and-mortar businesses and First Nations communities.

“I think the province should really press pause on this,” says Chief Kelly LaRocca of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

LaRocca says they weren’t even consulted on the idea of online gaming and how it will affect them.

“Our community felt like it was a slap in the face,” she said.

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“iGaming threatens to take millions from host communities our First Nation relies on to build our economy through the provision of clean drinking water, health care, housing, etc. It’s essential to our economy,” said LaRocca.

Read more: FSIN, Sask. government announce SIGA as operator of new online gaming website

The money helps not only Scugog Island but also the Regional Municipality of Durham.

LaRocca says they have donated more than $30 million to charities over the past 25 years.

The MSIFN Chief also wrote a letter to the province, looking to challenge the Queen’s Park in court. Given the fact they say Ontario didn’t consult with them, it leaves the iGaming concept open to constitutional challenge.

“The province’s iGaming model will create hundreds of job losses, and it will happen without the creation of new job opportunities.”

It’s a fear held by not only her but casino operators as well. CEO with Great Canadian Gaming, Tony Rodio says they are in support of the idea, but not the way it sits right now.

“We want to be able to participate and compete, but we want a level playing field,” says Rodio.

The problem they say is that there is no limit on how many companies can go online at this time. And officials say online casinos only have to give a 20 per cent tax rate — compared with roughly 55 per cent for bricks and mortar, giving iGaming casinos the better hand out of the deck.

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“To bring them in and let them operate under a huge tax advantage when they’ve been operating illegally for years, again, I think it’s grossly unfair.”

Read more: PlayAlberta, regulated online gambling website, launched Thursday

The province announced the plan in 2019 — saying it will help regulate and displace the existing grey market. It will be managed by a subsidiary under the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) called iGaming Ontario. The province says there will be a rigorous vetting process for anyone who applies for a licence. But the ripple effects it could cause is worrisome for casino workers.

“There’s going to be lots of competition and competition for players — and it’s kinda scary,” says Ian Reeve, as a shift manager at the Pickering Casino Resort. “It could have an impact on jobs here.”

The casino industry estimates over the next five years, the new gaming model could cause more than 2,000 job losses in Ontario and nearly $200 million less in contributions to municipalities.

“It puts some of the revenues with our partners and stakeholders in jeopardy,” says Rodio.

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In a statement, the province says iGaming will complement land-based gaming. It says there have been several conversations with stakeholders over the past few years.

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“It will provide an opportunity to assist Ontario in providing iGaming to diversify revenue sources and cross-promote between online and land-based sites,” a spokesperson with the Ministry of Finance said in the statement.

The new concept launches April 4 — with casino operators watching closely.

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