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Ballot gaming question may come too late

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Putting a gaming question on November’s municipal election ballot may be too late since the province aims to have a number of the permanent charitable gaming sites up and running by the end of the year.

Ab Campion, a spokesman for the Ontario Gaming Commission, said yesterday the contracts are slated to be signed with the successful proponents around the middle of next month.

The proponents then would have 45 days to come back with a detailed site for the permanent charitable gaming operation, which brings them into October or November (much depends on how quick the turn-around is with municipalities).

Campion noted a town’s official plan or bylaws may specifically prohibit such an establishment. Then the proponent would have to approach the town for an amendment, and that would delay things.

But because there is nothing specific in town bylaws here referring to casinos, either for or against, administration isn’t clear on how it would be handled.

CAO Bill Naturkach said yesterday if it wasn’t listed as a permitted use, it was restricted. That would mean a proponent would have to apply for an amendment.

Naturkach added he’s not aware of the province passing any legislation otherwise.

But Planning and Development manager Ted Berry likened the charitable gaming hall to “a place of amusement,” or C2 zoning, which is within the town’s official plan.

“Not all our uses are clearly defined,” Berry admitted, noting the town’s bylaws didn’t specify bingo halls either but that was permitted as a place of amusement.

“You can often liken it to an activity that is blanket enough to cover it,” he explained.

Any entrepreneur wanting to set up business here also would have to get a business licence.

“We wouldn’t license them to conduct a casino. That would be a provincial licence," Clerk Glenn Treftlin noted. "The only licence we give to the bingo hall is a general business licence.”

And Treftlin said there was nothing he was aware of that would permit the town to refuse the licence.

“We can’t just arbitrarily refuse a licence," he said, noting if the town did that, it would be opening itself up for a potential lawsuit. "We would have to be pretty darn confident we could win a challenge.”

As of now, Treftlin hasn’t been directed to put any question on the November ballot. Council referred the wording of the possible referendum question to the Community Services executive committee and the economic development advisory committee at its meeting last month.

If the question were to go on the ballot, it would have to be put into bylaw by Sept. 22. The wording is to come before council at its Sept. 8 meeting.

Although Fort Frances was identified as “the most suitable location” in the catchment area, Campion admitted the charitable gaming hall could be put within a 40-km radius of here.

“But the preferred site is Fort Frances," he noted. "The provincial government’s position is we wouldn’t impose it on a community.”

Two companies made the shortlist to operate gaming halls in “Cluster Six,” which includes Fort Frances—Klondike Limited Partnership and CHC International, a conglomerate of Carnival Hotels, Casinos and Cruiselines, Amethyst Holdings Ltd., and 1191067 Ontario Inc. (owned by Tom Jones Contracting of Thunder Bay).

Ottawa, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie are to have permanent, full-time facilities (open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year) while Fort Frances, Timmins and Marathon would have permanent part-time ones (anything less than full-time).

It’s estimated the 36 full-time and eight part-time charitable bingo halls proposed will bring in $180 million annually for charities and another $250 million for the province.

Of that, two percent (up to $9 million) will go toward problem gambling initiatives, up from the $1 million now being spent by the province.

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