‘Job loss is inevitable,’ Mississaugas of Scugog Island condemn Ontario’s iGaming rollout

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Published April 4, 2022 at 1:28 pm

Chief LaRocca Great Blue Heron
Mississaugas of Scugog Island Chief Kelly LaRocca addresses a crowd in front of the Great Blue Heron Casino in November 2021 - via Great Blue Heron Casino

Operators of the Great Blue Heron Casino (GBH), the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN), have condemned the Ontario government’s plan to bring, “gaming into the living rooms of Ontarians,” through their online iGaming rollout.

Ontario launched it’s regulated online gambling market on April 4, allowing residents to remotely bet on casino games, sports and gambling events through their computer or smartphone.

Websites and apps must be registered in the regulated marketplace overseen by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Roughly 25 operators are currently registered 13 of which are actively taking bets.

Online gambling has existed in Ontario for years in legal grey area via sites hosted outside of the country. However, this is the first day bets will be accepted through the regulated marketplace.

Describing registration that ensures operators work within “rigorous standards of game integrity, fairness, player protections, and social responsibility,” iGaming Executive Director Martha Otton said “This is a monumental day that establishes Ontario as an international leader in online gaming.”

However, operators of brick-and-mortar casinos, like the Mississaugas of Scugog Island, are not so enthused. “At GBH, operators provide multiple services ensuring responsible gaming like in-person age verification, self-exclusion, & PlaySmart facilities. Rushed policy puts us at risk,” said the Nation via social media.

Under Ontario law, gambling operators cannot advertise with celebrities who have a large following of fans under 18 years old. Such restrictions have led to partnerships like the one between PointsBet and the Trailer Park Boys, the East Coast comedy legends renowned for their adult humour.

However MSIFN remains concerned about the target demographic of online gaming. Noting that based on their research, people of legal gambling age, 18 in Ontario, prefer to settle into a physical location. They therefore asked, “Which demographic are these video game-style products are actually targeting?”

iGaming promotes a Responsible Gaming Standards Check (RG Check) designed to ensure players are of legal age and not suffering the harms of gambling addiction. Throughout the three-year accreditation period operators must submit to annual inspections to verify they’re following the rules.

The registration process follows a six stage inspection of the site or app to ensure it follows nine principles through 48 criteria. MSIFN is concerned these criteria don’t go far enough saying, “We’re pretty sure most teenagers will have no problem getting around these measures.”

Also of paramount concern to MSIFN is the impact accessible home gambling would have on brick-and-mortar casinos. Executive Vice-President of Great Canadian Gaming, which operates Casino Ajax, Pickering Casino Resort and Great Blue Heron, Chuck Keeling voiced concern that iGaming would reduce physical casino profits by 30 per cent according to an independent study.

Such a reduction would result numerous job cuts across the industry and reduce transfer payments to host communities. The October transfer payment from Casino Ajax topped up the town’s coffers to the tune of $1.4 million.

Casino revenues and therefore the transfer payments have already been impacted as a result COVID-19 closures. Ajax budgeted last year for reduced income from the casino. Prior to the pandemic revenues from Casino Ajax came in around $7.4 million, but fell to $5.7 million in 2020.

These concerns were echoed by MSIFN, “Job loss is inevitable,” said the Nation, “It’s hard to see how governments can talk about reconciliation then take away our community’s main source of economic activity. The GBH Casino has been essential to us lifting our long-term boil water advisory.”

Four boil water advisories stood on Scugog Island for 13 years before the Nation, with support by the Federal government, opened the taps of their new water system in December. The new system had been in the works since 2014 and was funded in part my Great Blue Heron.

Citing the Casino as a vital piece of Scugog Island’s economy, the First Nation said, “[Doug Ford’s] irresponsible approach threatens the work we’ve done to lift boil water advisories in our community and move our First Nation forward.”

“We will continue to speak out against Ford‘s iGaming strategy as it directly impacts our community & violates the duty to consult,” the MSIFN continued.

Photo via Great Blue Heron Casino.

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