Niagara Falls expects impacts to visitors, finances from ‘Vegas-style’ casino opening in Toronto

A picture of Clifton Hill in the city of Niagara Falls Canada on a Saturday night in the summer of 2020. Global News

City officials from Niagara Falls, Ont. expect to see impact in foot traffic and finances when a $1-billion “Vegas-style” casino and resort opens up in west Toronto this summer.

It’s a reality the tourist destination has had five years to prepare for, and this year concerns over the anticipated effects on brick and mortar venues made it into the city’s budget talk.

City CAO Jason Burgess told Global News specific numbers associated with a potential decline are hard to pinpoint, but the drop ultimately will hinder the city’s aspirations of bettering an estimated 14 million visitors they hope to attract annually.

“If we get back to 14 or 15 million users, that’s good, but how do we really become a global player?” Burgess said.

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“We ideally want to get to, you know, 20 million or 25 million visitors. What’s going to unlock that?”

Compounding the issue is the emergence of online gaming also expected to impact the municipalities appeal in that sector.

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Before the COVID pandemic, Niagara Falls received around $20 million a year via contributions from Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara as part of an Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) deal.

Going into 2023, it’s estimated the city will see about 60 per cent of that money as venues still recover from the effects of COVID on tourism.

Burgess alerted councillors in January during a budget presentation that finance staff are cautious with the OLG revenue suggesting it may never a return to 2019 numbers.

“A significant level of play at the Niagara Casinos is from GTA residents. When the new casino is constructed in Toronto, it is anticipated that this will have a material impact,” Mayor Jim Diodati added during the presentation.

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City staff say about 40 per cent of visitors that come to the Falls during the summer season are Ontarians.

The head of the organization tagged with promoting attractions in the city is banking on an upping of marketing campaigns across the GTA, Quebec and the United States in a recovery effort, boasting Niagara Falls is “much more than casinos.”

Niagara Falls Tourism CEO and president Janice Thomson told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton that trails, cycling paths, a 5,000-seat live entertainment venue, unique businesses and the Falls itself provide a multi-level escape to entice visitors.

“So the casinos, of course, are a big part of that but they are part of a broad experience that we offer,” said Thomson.

Spokespeople for the Niagara Falls casinos, Fallsview and Casino Niagara, have not answered direct queries about the effects of the “Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto” other than to suggest they are “committed” to gaming and tourism within the Falls.

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Burgess does agree with his tourism counterpart, suggesting more international visitors into the province and ultimately to Niagara Falls is key to restart growth.

“This will be a bump in the road, but we need to get on with it,” Burgess said.

“We need to get Niagara Falls to a destination where there’s more new product that’s attracting more people from outside of Ontario.”

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