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Gaming issue coming up fast


To gamble or not to gamble? That is the question.

Town council Monday night unanimously supported asking voters if they were in favour of having a part-time charitable casino located in Fort Frances--as well as if they support VLTs here--as plebiscites held in conjunction with the Nov. 10 municipal election.

But before council votes on bylaws to put these two questions on the ballot at its next regular meeting Sept. 22, it will seek a legal opinion on whether it has any jurisdiction over casinos in the first place.

The town also is looking into whether there will be public consultation by the province into the location of a part-time charitable casino here, and how local charities would be affected by such an establishment.

But council may have to make a decision before these questions even go to the voters because the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations said it will be awarding the contract for casinos within the next two weeks.

After that, the proponent has 45 days to come back with a site. And if all goes as scheduled, the proponent would need its site by Nov. 8--two days before the municipal election.

And council already has taken a stance on VLTs, defeating a resolution to support the use of VLTs at licensed premises here at its regular meeting back on Feb. 10.

Only Mayor Glenn Witherspoon voted in favour of the resolution, with Couns. Deane Cunningham, Sharon Tibbs, Neil Kabel, and Bill Martin voting against it.

Coun. George Blanc had declared a conflict of pecuniary interest, as his hotel was one of the operations making the request, while Coun. Bruce Armstrong was absent from the meeting.

Regarding the location of a part-time charitable gaming facility here, Ab Campion, director of communications with the MCCR, said it would be up to the successful proponent to take the appropriate steps with the municipality.

And if there is nothing in place to prevent a casino from locating here (Fort Frances’ official plan doesn’t speak to it), council would have to pass a bylaw against it.

"It may be up to the council what they want to decide," Campion admitted, noting if the proponent wasn’t happy with the decision, it could appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

"Every municipality would have to deal with it on its own."

But Campion stressed the government’s position all along was it would not force a community to take a casino. While Fort Frances was deemed "the most suitable location" for a part-time charitable gaming facility, Campion noted one could be located within a 40-km radius of here.

"Although they’re not bound in legislation, one thing they would take into consideration is the acceptable host," echoed Ian Smith, with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Office in Thunder Bay.

He stresses the province talked about leaving it up to the municipalities to decide whether they wanted the facility or not.

And Fort Frances isn’t the only municipality considering putting this issue to the voters. Smith noted other councils, including Thunder Bay, were tossing the issue around.

Two companies made the short-list to operate gaming halls in "Cluster Six" (of which Fort Frances is part)--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).

It’s estimated the 36 full-time and eight part-time charitable casinos being proposed by the Harris government will bring in $180 million ($100 million from VLTs and $80 million from table games) annually for charities, and another $250 million for the province.

The charity gaming clubs could have a maximum 150 VLTs and 40 table games.

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