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North Bay casino could deal charities a difficult hand

Charity organization argues local casino would not be a tourist attraction and would be a detriment to community at large
Janet Zimbalatti, secretary of the Blue Sky Bingo Hall Charity Association, warned City Council that an OLG casino in North Bay would be used by the same population whose money supports 57 local charities. Photo by Liam Berti

Opening a casino in downtown North Bay could be a big roll of the dice for the rest of the community, some argue.  

The Blue Sky Bingo Hall Charity Association is continuing to question the true cost of a privately operated casino under the supervision of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) in North Bay. 

In February, Janet Zimbalatti, the secretary of the Association, requested the city undergo an economic impact study for the proposed casino and consider the derived community benefit of bringing one to the area.

But she returned to the podium this Monday to warn the group that the casino might not be the tourist attraction they hope for and would dramatically decrease the bingo revenue and charity donations. 

“It’s not designed, you probably understand, to be a tourist draw,” she explained. “Under the OLG modernization plan, a prime aim for the OLG is ‘to expand and consolidate gaming sites based on customer interest, with gaming facilities to be located where customers are.’

“Other Ontario slots and casinos which do bring in tourists are located closer to large urban centres to draw on their population,” she added. “We don’t have a large population centre near us to draw on.”

The Association currently receives 45 per cent of the profit from all games and concessions at Blue Sky Bingo, which are paid directly to the partnering charities to fund their community efforts and, by law, must be spent to benefit local causes. 

The proceeds are divided up amongst 57 charitable organizations locally, from poverty relief efforts, educational charities, arts and heritage charities, health and accessibility services and 26 youth sporting activities. 

In 2014, the group estimated the charities contributed up to $1.2 million to the district economy and spent close to $250,000 on advertising. 

Zimbalatti said the downtown casino, on the other hand, would be licensed for up to 300 slots and require 120 gaming positions servicing 15 tables, operated only when play is in demand. 

Compared to the 29 other OLG slots and casinos throughout the province, North Bay’s would be in the bottom third in size and additional amenities. 

And they could be committed for up to 40 years.

The casino would be opened by a private operator with a 20 year operating agreement with OLG, renewable for two 10-year periods, and a service provider would operate non-gaming amenities (ie. restaurant), with all revenue going to that proprietor. 

“I think that people who visit North Bay for other reasons might play at the proposed casino, but it will not become a tourist destination with lots of buses coming in,” said Zimbalatti. 

“So who would play at a small, shiny OLG North Bay casino?” she continued. “Primarily, the 64,000 population in this region. This is the same population which currently plays bingo and whose money supports 57 charities to make contributions to the local region.” 

Referencing the original OLG report, Zimbalatti said the local casino would not be a full-service facility, like Casino Rama, because those models are losing money. 

“Based on the analysis of the OLG annual report 2013-14, if I, as a player, were to spend $100 at this proposed casino, I should be aware that $50 goes to the provincial profit share and only $5 to my local municipality,” Zimbalatti explained. “You, the city councillors, are aware of this 50 per cent drain. Now you’re aware that this project would affect us all for 20-to-40 years.” 

On behalf of the Association executive, she continued to urge the politicians to undertake an economic impact report and consider all aspects of the project before they cast their vote. 

City Council previously supported the OLG process in 2012 to ensure there was community interest. The OLG is now finalizing the request for proposal process for the Northern Gaming Bundle, which includes Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Kenora.

If the city is to issue a study, it will be up to a member of council to bring the proposal forward. 


Liam Berti

About the Author: Liam Berti

Liam Berti is a University of Ottawa journalism graduate who has since worked for BayToday as the City Council and North Bay Battalion reporter.
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