REFILE-Ontario govt eyes Toronto casino to boost revenues

Mon Mar 12, 2012 3:43pm EDT

* Province to allow Toronto casino pending local approval

* Lottery arm report says can raise C$1 bln in revenues

By Jon Cook

TORONTO, March 12 (Reuters) - Ontario's government cleared the path on Monday for the opening of a new Toronto-area casino as part of a broader plan by the debt-ridden Canadian province boost its revenues from gambling and lotteries.

The Toronto-area casino, which would still require a business study and local approval, was one of several proposals from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp (OLG) which the government-owned corporation said could boost its revenues by C$1 billion ($1 billion) annually.

The province's Liberal minority government approved the casino idea and some of OLG's other proposals in the hopes they will help with its push to eliminate a C$16 billion budget deficit by 2018.

"We are focused, more than ever, on balancing the budget," Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said in a statement. "Modernizing OLG's operations and business model is an example of how we are ensuring our assets are delivering the greatest value."

The government also called for the private sector to take on a bigger role in order to make operations more efficient.

Ontario's gambling industry includes a Caesars Entertainment-operated casino in Windsor, Ontario's border city with Detroit.

Other OLG proposals included diversifying away from slot machines to provide more table games such as blackjack and poker favored by younger gamblers. The corporation also wants to add lottery terminals in supermarkets, big box stores and other large retailers.

OLG said it needed to find a way to make up for a drop-off in gambling by Americans in Ontario. It said revenues from facilities near the U.S.-Canadian border have fallen C$700 million in the last decade. A rising Canadian dollar has hurt many Canadian businesses reliant on U.S. tourists.

Last year the OLG generated C$2 billion in net revenue for the province.

Ontario's finances are under scrutiny after a report commissioned by the government said last month the province must curb spending growth to keep the deficit from spiraling out of control.

Last week Duncan told Reuters he will likely announce small privatization efforts and slightly improved growth and revenue projections in his upcoming budget.

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