McCown: Godfrey's Gone "Goofy" With Gambling
He's lived in Las Vegas. He's pro-gaming. He's the most respected Canadian sports-talk figure there is. He is Bob McCown, and he's the most recent person to come out and say that he is completely against Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Chair Paul Godfrey's "goofy" gaming modernization plan.
Even though his namesake 'Primetime Bobcat' used to be a world-record holder, McCown has not been shy regarding his frustration with the horse-racing industry over the years. On many occasions he has quickly read racing its pedigree, pointing out some of the glaring issues that have been allowed to percolate relatively unaddressed in the game. One thing is certain, McCown did not take his recent anti-modernization stance to support of the Ontario horse-racing industry, which had a bomb dropped on it early in 2012 when the OLG and the minority Ontario Liberal Government declared it was scrapping the hugely-successful slots-at-racetracks agreement.
McCown's nightly talk-radio show, Primetime Sports, which is heard coast to coast in Canada on Sportsnet TheFan590, usually kicks off its five-o'clock hour with relatively light-hearted banter between himself and the co-host that is joining him that evening. Sometimes 'The Bobcat' and his cohort will discuss hot-dog buns. Sometimes they will discuss even more trivial matters than that. On Tuesday, February 6 the topic was nothing trivial.
On Tuesday, McCown kicked off the five-o'clock hour with his co-host du jour, nationally-respected sports journalist Stephen Brunt, who is both a native and resident of Hamilton, Ont. It's anyone's guess as to whether the topic was planned to be broached or not, but the discussion quickly switched to the topic of casino gaming. Brunt made mention of the current uproar in Hamilton over proposed casino expansion in the city's downtown sector. From there, the topic of Ontario casino expansion was discussed for nine uninterrupted minutes, and before anyone knew it, McCown and Brunt both threw their hats in the ring as being against the OLG's controversial gaming modernization plan -- or at least the casino aspect of it.
In the last year, McCown has allowed Godfrey to briefly discuss elements of the OLG modernization plan on at least two occasions. On Tuesday, McCown, in regard to the modernization, went on the record as saying, "I didn't think he (Godfrey) was going to go that 'goofy' with this gambling stuff."
Whether he knew he was doing it or not, McCown's position on casino gaming, in a way, supported one of the same lines of thinking that the slots-at-racetracks championed: placing gaming locations, for the most part, away from urban areas where people did not want them.
"This voluntary taxation (gambling at casinos) --- what I object to is putting it in every community," McCown said. "I lived in (Las) Vegas, so I can speak to this. The convenience of having a casino, or slot machines in your gas station and in your grocery store and in the 7-11, I've lived that. I had two 'locals' casinos less than a five-minute drive away from my house and then the strip was about 10 or 12 minutes away... they have a little hotel with a couple hundred rooms that hardly ever get used, but it's basically for locals, and the limits are lower, and the atmosphere is a little friendlier, and it's not as ostentatious, and you can find penny machines and nickel machines, and they are not trying to take every last cent out of you, and as a social night out, it is good.
"The dilemma I have is that if you go to Casino Rama or to Fallsview, which are run by the OLG, ostensibly, I think the limits are too high. I understand you are trying to make money, but it's not friendly, in the sense of a gaming standpoint, and the take on the machines is way too high -- and if you think tourists are going to come to Toronto and go to a casino, you're dreaming in Technicolor! You can go anywhere in the world and gamble, and if you want to go someplace on vacation and gamble, you're not coming to Toronto! Ah, you're going to go to Vegas first choice, maybe Atlantic City second choice, Foxwoods in Connecticut... you can go anywhere. The days of attracting tourists -- if they give you that B.S. they are lying through their hats! So, if you want gambling here, you're (the public is) going to pay for it."
Commenting on the recent trend of how some governments have opted to incorporate gaming revenue into their operating budgets, McCown said that revenue derived from gaming is "like crack to the government. It's money. It's revenue," adding that in the past, gaming-derived revenue was initially "all going to go to hospitals, education," but now it "just goes in the general pot."
McCown switched gears in the discussion to that of Ontario's border-located casinos, stating that, "Another thing that bothers me is that they spent $1.4 billion to build Fallsview, and they still have the original Niagara Falls casino that is open.
"There was a time when 90 or 95 per cent of the business that Fallsview was generating was from the United States, so it really was about bringing money in from across the border. Same in Windsor. Those days are over. You have casinos in Detroit. You have a casino in Niagara Falls, New York..."
It was at that point when McCown made the argument that Casino Rama and the Fallsview Casino are having trouble attracting American patrons, and that each of the casinos, to an extent, depend on the Toronto market for patronage.
"Where do Niagara Falls and Rama get their business from?" McCown asked, rhetorically. "Well, interestingly, if you draw the circle around Casino Niagara and Rama, they intersect, basically, in Toronto. So you have half of the people that want to go gamble going to Rama and half the people going to Fallsview, theoretically at least. If you put a casino in Toronto, what percentage of the business are you taking away from the other two places? And, are you taking away so much money that they (Fallsview and Rama) become unsustainable?"
In speaking to the advantages of having rural locations for gaming establishments, something which is front and center in the expiring slots-at-racetracks agreement, McCown stated that the locations can help in terms of controlling problem gambling.
"Right now, if you want to go to Rama or if you want to go to Fallsview if you live in Toronto, you have to make a trip," McCown said. "It's an hour and fifteen, and hour and twenty-minute drive. Maybe you stay overnight. Maybe you have a nice dinner and do some other things. And, as a leisure-time activity, if you do it three of four or five times a year, it's great, nobody gets really badly hurt. You make it a five-minute drive from somebody's house, now you've got a problem."
To conclude his position on the topic, McCown agreed with Godfrey in saying that he doesn't want casino gaming in his neighbourhood (in regard to casino expansion, Godfrey said last month, "… I gotta tell you, I wouldn’t want it in my neighbourhood…").
"You know me, I'm pro-gaming," said McCown. "I have no issue with gaming at all. I'm in favour of it, but I don't want it in my hometown. I've lived in a town that has gaming (Las Vegas), I've seen what it can do -- I've seen what it can do to people for whom it is too convenient. I like the idea that it takes me an hour to get there (to the casino), that I can't just go whenever I want to go, I've got to plan for it, make a trip out of it. I think that inhibits me, limits the times I go. I love when I go, but I don't have a problem."
To listen to the segment, click here on click the play button below. (the discussion regarding Godfrey and Ontario casino expansion starts at roughly the 8:30 mark and runs until the 17:34 mark.)