News

Protecting jobs or creating fear?

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Casino Niagara

Casino Niagara

Legitimate concerns or fear mongering? Depends on whether you ask Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati or Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni.

Diodati continues to tout a third-party study which questions whether the province's plan for gaming modernization, including a request for proposal to select new operators for its two Niagara casinos, could result in up to 1,400 job losses in the region.

Ioannoni, however, said when councillors were emailed the study by Diodati on Feb. 16, there was "no urgency highlighted, just that it might be of interest to us."

She said Diodati and Niagara Regional Chairman Alan Caslin have since been quoted in media reports stating 1,400 jobs may be lost and that one of the casinos could close if the RFP process moves forward.

"Had the mayor alerted council that it was such an urgent situation that we could imminently lose 1,400 jobs, council, as a whole, not just the mayor, would have acted," said Ioannoni.

"There was nothing alarmist in anything he sent us. We're all concerned about 1,400 jobs, but I'm even more concerned about the hysteria they've created around here that is scaring the heck out of 1,400 families."

She said while the study, commissioned by the city through its business development office last year, questioned whether the province's plan could lead to the loss of between 800 to 1,400 jobs in Niagara and whether both casinos will continue to operate following modernization, it's not new information.
 
"We've known that, as a council, for 2 1/2 years," said Ioannoni.

She said Diodati has been quoted as saying the last couple years have been the best earning in a long time for the casinos in Niagara.

Ioannoni said if the No. 1 priority for the RFP is how much revenue the province receives, logic should dictate the revenue generated locally will keep both casinos open.
 
"I'm not understanding their rationale on believing that ... one of those are going to close," she said.

"Nowhere in the document does it say either one is going to close, and the reality is the RFP says for two sites. We paid for that report. That report tells us what we want to hear."
 
Diodati said the HLT Advisory Group that conducted the study is a professional consultant that has more than 20 years of experience representing both major gaming companies and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

He said Ioannoni "obviously doesn't have a grasp on what's actually going on."

"What we said was 1,400 jobs, so whether that's Casino Niagara closing, or 1,400 out of Fallsview Casino, it's irrelevant. OLG has agreed to the fact that there will be job loss with the current RFP and modernization. The only part up for debate is how many jobs we'll lose."

Diodati said while OLG told him they don't believe job losses will be as high as the study indicated, a recent reassessment of the Fallsview Casino property yielded a 50 per cent reduction in value due to speculation a casino could open in Toronto.

"Anyone who suggests that it won't be negative needs to do their homework. There's no question this will be devastating, the only thing we're debating is to what degree.

"This is the government coming up with a plan to reduce jobs in Niagara ... so we can redistribute them in the GTA. We're trying to be proactive. We can see the writing on the wall and we're not going to stand back and get outsmarted by some people in the GTA that want to take our jobs."

At about 4,000 jobs, the two Niagara Falls casinos form the region's largest employer.

Earlier this month, OLG started a process to find new operators for Casino Niagara and Fallsview Casino.

The day after, a delegation from Niagara, including Diodati and Caslin, went to Toronto to speak out against potential job losses. It followed a rally held in front of Fallsview Casino in late March.

"We stood on the stage with ... all three parties, all four MPPs, three levels of government were all on the same page because we're concerned about the negative impact on jobs," said Diodati.

Last month, Diodati and Caslin sent a joint letter to Finance Minister Charles Sousa asking the RFP be terminated, a request the province declined.

Diodati and Caslin felt the province's goal of maximizing provincial revenue would undermine the original objectives of Casino Niagara when it opened in 1996, including job creation and economic development for the city.

He also said the city was "assured" by OLG it would be part of the process for developing an RFP, which hasn't materialized.

OLG expects to announce the successful service provider in the summer of 2018.

A press release issued earlier this month stated there will be no further communication by OLG about the request process until a winner is announced.

The city's two casinos are currently operated by Falls Management Group on OLG's behalf. Last year, OLG notified the company it would not extend its contract past its current term which ends July 10, 2019.

rspiteri@postmedia.com