Pulses were running high at Queen’s Park on March 26, 2012, where thousands of protestors rallied against the Liberal Government’s removal of over 700 slot machines from Ontario’s racetracks. OPSEU President Smokey Thomas was speaking to the crowd, in solidarity with the Ontario Harness and Horse Association (OHHA). At issue are the 60,000 racetrack jobs now under threat.
Slot machines were initially placed at racetracks after a deal was struck with the province in 1997. Despite this being a successful partnership between the Ontario government, OHHA, and the people of Ontario, slot machines were nonetheless removed from Fort Erie, Sarnia and Windsor racetracks within 48 hours of their announced closure.
“The government wants to move casinos to urban centres as a quick fix to the province’s deficit,” says President Smokey Thomas, “It won’t work. The corporation that makes the profit from casinos is not the one that pays the costs associated with addiction and crime related to gambling.”
These days, it seems the Liberals are picking and choosing who will or will not lose their jobs within the gambling industry. An inside source from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG) has said that the Liberals are planning to build a new casino on the site where Ontario Place now stands. This plan, they say, was already in the works when a sudden announcement to close the park came on February 1, 2012. In line with this, a temporary casino is slated to open at the Ontario Place site this fall.
All of these initiatives speak to an ugly reality within the McGuinty government: the decision to remove the racetrack slot machines, close Ontario Place, and build a casino where it now stands, have all been made without any consultation with the OHHA or Ontario Place officials. What will they force on us next?