Last week’s provincial budget could pave the way for free booze for Casino Rama gamblers.
But officials say it’s too early to say it’s a safe bet at the gambling facility east of Orillia.
Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives opened the door to the practice with two simple sentences.
On Page 88 of the 343-page tome that outlines the province’s fiscal plans, in a section titled ‘Early Wins for The People’ are the following statements:
“In addition, the government will begin allowing casinos to advertise complimentary alcohol. This change will level the playing field for Ontario casinos and enable them to compete more effectively with those in the United States.”
Rob Mitchell said he could not shed much light on the issue.
The director of communications and public affairs for Gateway Casinos, the operator of Rama and several other casinos, said it’s too early to predict how the change in policy might play out.
“The legislation has to go to committee and there will, in all likelihood, be amendments and so it’s really premature for us to formulate any policy at this point in time,” Mitchell told OrilliaMatters this week.
“It’s very early days. We need to see how the legislation moves forward ... its very much up in the air as to how we might incorporate this into our business model, if at all,” said Mitchell.
However, he said the new rules “could have a profound impact” on casinos in border cities such as Niagara Falls, Sault Ste. Marie and elsewhere.
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati told The Niagara Falls Review "it's about time" for the new approach.
The mayor told the newspaper the Niagara Falls casino felt like it had “one arm tied behind the back” trying to compete with its U.S. rivals, who offer free booze to its patrons.
He said U.S. casinos “offer a lot of things we don't. At the very least, throw in the free drinks if they're gambling."
The new policy is part of a general trend toward loosening restrictions and opening up more choices around alcohol in Ontario.
“The government is committed to respecting adult consumers by trusting them to make responsible choices that work for them,” the document says several times.
The budget calls for the province to “substantially expand consumer access to beverage alcohol” by enabling “many more opportunities for the private sector to compete in the sale and distribution of beverage alcohol.
These are listed as more ‘early wins' for the people:
- Creating a tailgating permit for eligible sporting events to allow Ontario sports fans to participate in legal tailgating events similar to those permitted in many U.S. states.
- Introducing legislation permitting municipalities to designate public areas, such as parks, for the consumption of alcohol.
- Providing flexibility for wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries to promote their products at manufacturing sites by removing the prescribed serving sizes for “by the glass” licences.
- Extending hours of alcohol service at licensed establishments — including bars, restaurants and golf courses — to a 9 a.m. start, seven days per week.
- Changing advertising rules to allow for “happy hour” in Ontario.
- Introducing legislation to pause the previous government’s changes to the Wine Tax, which was scheduled to increase on April 1. The proposed change would leave more money in the pockets of Ontario wine consumers.
These changes are expected to be in place by this summer.