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Sault, Kenora welcome casinos as potential tourism generator.

Joe Fratesi welcomes the province's plan to legalize casinos in Ontario's border communities.

However, the Sault Ste. Marie mayor does not believe gambling will lessen the local cross-border shopping problem.

"While we believe a casino is good, it does not deter the number of people crossing to buy gas and groceries across the border. That's the biggest problem," says Fratesi.

Ontario Treasurer Floyd Laughren agrees with Fratesi, adding his belief that Sunday shopping will also fail to deter cross-border shopping.

"The problem is, once people start cross-border shopping, it becomes institutionalized," says the treasurer.

James Carnegie, executive director of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, says he fails to see how Sault Ste. Marie will benefit from a casino. He believes the province will be the only beneficiary, by collecting the revenue from gambling.

"I find it difficult to understand what a casino would do for Sault Ste. Marie, but there certainly is an economic benefit to the state," Carnegie argues.

Fratesi explains that a casino in his community would offer competition to Vegas Kewadin, which is located across the river in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

"The establishment (Vegas Kewadin) boasts that 80 per cent of its customers are Canadian residents," he adds.

Since opening in 1985, the Chippewa-operated, $5-million casino has attracted more than one million customers.

That number is expected to jump dramatically with an expansion of the casino and the construction of a 52-room hotel and restaurant on the adjacent property. Both projects are nearing completion.

For the operating Chippewa band, Vegas Kewadin has provided several benefits, including a reduction in the band's unemployment rate as well as funding for 50 programs related to health care, job training, education and housing.

Fratesi believes a casino would provide equal benefits to his community, by generating tourism and new opportunities for tourism-related businesses.

"The value of the casino, as I see it, is the spin-offs will be substantial," confirms Ken Lajambe, president of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce.

"It will be a tourist destination where people will spend all day in town," he speculates.

However, Carnegie disagrees.

"It may attract some people into the area, but you can't honestly say the people will put their money into the damn community," he says.

Carnegie believes the province will be pressured to expand its casino plan beyond Ontario's border communities.

"Our assumption is (there will be casinos) across the province because they (the government) will be hard-pressed to justify giving it to just one area of the province," he says.

UNFAIR

Laughren concedes this point, explaining that "it would not be fair" to permit casinos only in border communities.

To date, the government has not identified potential locations or indicated whether the casinos will be government-run and operated, as in Manitoba, or operated by entrepreneurs and regulated by government, as in British Columbia.

It has indicated, though, that the casinos will not open for at least one year.

However, that delay has not discouraged several communities, such as Kenora and Cobalt, from putting in a bid to be a host site for one of the proposed gambling facilities.

Kenora municipal council has passed a resolution requesting the province consider the community as a potential site for a casino or off-track betting parlor.

The municipality is approximately 30 miles from Manitoba and 140 miles from Minnesota, and both have legalized gambling.

"We consider ourselves a border community, and being a designated tourist spot, we believe this will help draw in more tourists," says Kenora Mayor Kelvin Winkler. "They (tourists) already gamble in Minnesota and Manitoba, so why wouldn't they do it here?"

Kenora council has also passed a resolution calling for the legalization of video slot machines in Ontario drinking establishments. It has recommended that the province give the licensing rights and a share of the profits to municipalities.

These machines have been a boost to the ailing bar business in rural Manitoba where 1,200 machines have been installed and 400 more are planned. Bar owners receive 20 per cent of the profits from the machines.

Laughren says it has been estimated that there are 20,000 illegal video lottery terminals in the province.

Lotteries generate millions for health care and charities

Gambling is a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada, split among lotteries, horse racing and bingos.

It has also become a major source of revenue for governments and charities.

According to the Ontario Lottery Corporation, gambling already accounts for about 1.1 per cent of the province's total revenue.

This year the Ontario Lottery Corporation is expected to hand over about $455 million to the province, which uses the funds for health care, charities, sports groups and recreation.

Of the profit made from Ontario lotteries last year, $338 million went to the Ministry of Health for the operation of hospitals, $70 million went to the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, $51 million went to the Ministry of Culture and Communications and $11 million went to Ministry of Citizenship.

Since it was created in 1975 to advertise and operate lotteries, the Ontario Lottery Corporation has turned over $4.3 billion to the Ontario government.

In addition, its number of employees has increased from 500 to 700 people with the opening of six regional distribution centres, including the one in Sault Ste. Marie.

Spokesman Don Pister says the lottery corporation does not regard lotteries as gambling.

"Lottery games are a distinct activity. Your ticket is as good as any other. It's random chance, and there is no element of skill required," Pister explains.

"It's an inexpensive form of fun and entertainment."

Research conducted for the corporation indicates that the average person spends a little less than $7 per week on lottery tickets.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on lotteries; Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario
Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:951
Previous Article:Charities' revenues riding on the province's casino proposal.
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