MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Masse Speaks on Comartin’s Bill C-290 Sports betting and the Gaming Industry

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the Liberal Party for allowing me to go a little sooner so I can get to another meeting tonight. I appreciate the camaraderie in the House, which does happen in this place.

    I think it is important to recognize the work of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh on Bill C-290. I commend him for his work. He has had this bill in the past and has brought it forth again. It is very timely.

    When we think about private member's issues that we can bring forward as members, this is a very serious one because it is about the economy right now. It would provide some extra revenue for the gaming industry. Also, I do not think we should under-estimate the issue with regard to organized crime. We are concerned about people with gambling addictions, but we know that sports wagering is taking place under the table, not just in Canada but across the globe. What is really important is that this will take away some of the financing from organized crime.

    It is very appropriate that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh is doing this from a local perspective, because we have a casino in Windsor. Sports betting happens in the United States, where people take advantage of it. They go to Las Vegas and other areas where they can bet. This would be a benefit because we have a lot of competition from the U.S. with the high Canadian dollar right now. Also, the U.S. is bringing in a series of measures to tax Canadians, and there are other border issues.

    We have seen a diminishing tourism industry. The HST being implemented had an affect upon tourism in Canada. Dropping the GST rebate was another blow to the tourism industry. Therefore, it is very important for us to see this as an advantage for us to compete against the United States in the gaming market right now. The U.S. has made efforts and pushed to bring in single sports betting venues, but it has not done so yet, except in Nevada.

    From a global perspective, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh is doing his job as a justice critic here for the official opposition because he is bringing forth a solution and a way to tackle crime with regard to the revenue stream that we see happening in the underground economy. I applaud the member on both those fronts. I think it is important to recognize him.

    Sports betting really should not be under-estimated. We do not even know the full value of what is going on in terms of the estimates of organized crime and sports betting happening illegally. There have been some studies done and they vary wildly, anywhere from $80 billion to $380 billion annually. That is a big spread, but it is a lot of money that is actually out there in the system. Even if we could take a fraction of that by moving on this, I think it would be important, not just with regard to the employment aspect but also making sure organized crime does not have an extra revenue stream in its repertoire. That is something I think Canadians want to see happen.

    I think it is important to get the bill to committee and hopefully through committee really quickly. The sooner we get to this, the better.

    Coming from the perspective of a border town like ours, Windsor and Essex County, we have seen first hand the difficulty with the economy. I note that in the supporters of the bill there is the CAW, the City of Niagara Falls, the City of Windsor, the Canadian Gaming Association, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, and several other provincial associations. I think that is one of the critical components as well, the way the bill will play itself out as each province is going to have an opportunity to make its own decision. I am hoping that we will see the Province of Ontario quickly grab onto this.

    With reference to the challenges in a border community right now, this would be a shot in the arm for an area that has suffered quite a loss of jobs. I was on city council at the time when we tried to diversify the Windsor and Essex County area, a number of years ago, by moving into tourism. We have been successful with a lot of different venues that we have put forth, but then there have also been other challenges. After 9/11, we saw the border change quite significantly. We now have more difficulty getting people to and from the border. This affects Americans coming into Canada as well as Canadians going out. We have extra taxes and so forth, so there were a few more problems for us.

    We hear stories from the Americans that they feel hassled crossing the border back and forth, even by their own people, What has happened is with the artificially high dollar from the high petroleum industry exports that we are doing right now, we have lost. We have gone basically from 60 cents on the dollar, when we brought in our tourism strategy, to parity or above. That is a significant shift over a small period of time.

We may think that eight to ten years is not that long, but it is when one is investing in a small business or in the tourism industry. This will again provide a shot in the arm to actually attract visitors to come over.

    One of the merits of the bill that is important to notice is that it acknowledges that the world is changing. When we brought the casino into Windsor it did not have competition across the river. We now have a series of Detroit institutions that have opened up. There are three casinos in particular and there are also the aboriginal casinos that are in other parts of Michigan. We have a series of competition that we cannot deny.

    In fact, if we walk down to the end of my street and look across the Detroit River, which is two miles, we can see one of the casinos there. Right across from Caesars Windsor casino is the Greektown casino and not far from there is MGM Grand. Therefore, we have a significant reality to deal with in terms of competition. Offering a different product would be an essential component of protecting those jobs and once again seeing more visitors come over from the United States.

    That is one of the benefits of living in a border society. We often traverse back and forth for different products for entertainment. For example, I go to the Detroit Lions game. I regularly cross the border to the United States to see their sports entertainment. There are Canadian dollars that go out there on a regular basis. Many Windsorites do that for the Tigers, the Pistons, the Lions, all the different organizations that provide sports entertainment.

    We would then be reciprocating a different product on this side. What is timely for the member for Windsor—Tecumseh's bill to address is that we have been watching Ohio enter into this market as well. Ohio has now opened up a couple of casinos which has taken away the destination component that was often important. We had a lot of coaches that would come in with people from Ohio who saw the better service they would get at the Windsor casino.

     Caesars product is good. The brand is terrific. It is the only one outside of the United States. There has been an investment made by the corporation to bring in live entertainment and other initiatives to keep the economy going and keep the jobs at the Windsor casino. People from Ohio would get on a bus and did not mind taking the extra step of coming over the border to get a better product.

    Now we are competing to get the people out of Ohio because they are staying there. They do not necessarily say, "Let's go to the casino. Are we going to Detroit or Windsor? Which one should we select", and then get on a tour package or drive down and cross over. It was less of a big deal because they were making that effort coming from Ohio anyway. The bill will provide an opportunity for that element to shine as well.

    We have some unusual opportunities that will happen over the next number of years that will enhance transportation from Chicago to Detroit. We cannot underestimate that market. There are tens of millions of people that live in that catchment area. Right now they are moving forward on higher speed rail improvements so I look forward in terms of this bill giving us a marketing advantage to be able to track from Chicago a number of different people who would visit our city. That is a market that we have not entered into much. It is something that we need. It is only five hours away.

    I conclude by saying that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh should be praised for this initiative because he is using his time in the House of Commons to try to make better economic decisions and social justice by tackling the organized crime element. I commend him on that. We need more of that in this place.