National News of Canada

Note to AG Downey: Grill TorStar Media for its Online Gambling Application

Will TorStar downplay knowledge of past casino corruption in the application process?

By JOHN DEVINE, AWN Associate Editor

As is generally known, TorStar, the corporate owner of the Toronto Star newspaper, recently announced its intention to apply for a gaming license—to DIRECTLY enter the online gambling industry, even though serious news outlets are obliged to report any instances of gambling-related fraud, misconduct or criminality anywhere.

AWN’s initial article about TorStar’s intentions generated a lot of “hits” on Facebook, with ample feedback. That feedback was unanimous in terms of readers disagreeing with the idea that media entities should involve themselves in gambling, along with considerable distrust of TorStar and its news products.

At a minimum, TorStar’s gambling application, if approved, would clearly create the circumstances for an obvious conflict of interest. How can a news organisation enter the gambling arena on the one hand, but, on the other hand, also report on whatever problems or corruption might enter that arena? That question applies regardless of whether the arena is in cyberspace or at a physical location.

The Toronto Star Building. TorStar says it’s looking at the gambling industry as a means of offsetting declining ad revenues. And Nordstar, the company that just took over TorStar, claims it will maintain high quality journalism. But will that translate into accurate and truthful coverage of the oftentimes corrupted casino industry, which is unique among business entities on which the media reports? Time will tell. But conflicts of interest are essentially unavoidable.(Photo credit:

However, since this matter requires a deeper look, Awakening News (AWN) reached out to Ontario Attorney Gen. Doug Downey, who must approve TorStar’s online gambling application.

AWN has contacted Downey mainly to let him know that TorStar, so far, has been dead silent when presented with AWN’s questions regarding past corruption-related matters at Canadian casinos—matters that TorStar may have known about but apparently did not investigate.

That includes specific, long-standing, highly credible allegations of unruly customers verbally and physically (including sexually) abusing staff and floor workers at Casino Rama near Orillia several years back, where, in addition, Health & Safety Act violations that presented ongoing workplace hazards to staff (and customers) typically were not addressed by the Ministry of Labour. That was when Penn National, an American-based company, managed that tribal casino.

As AWN has communicated to AG Downey, TorStar’s Lee Ann Waterman has long been informed of such matters. She was asked via a recent letter if she received Awakening News’ initial correspondence dated Sept. 18, 2019, relating to strongly suspected violations of the criminal code, and of the Ontario Health & Safety Act, inside the gaming industry.

To be clear, AWN let Downey know that Waterman did not respond to AWN’s 2019 letter nor to AWN’s subsequent letters, even if only to confirm that she received those letters—let alone whether she read them.

[Editor’s note: These casino issues, in fact, have been brought to the attention of various other mainline media outlets besides TorStar, and shared with several politicians, bureaucrats and premiers, with very little in the way of replies, with the notable exception of Ontario MPP Jim Wilson, who wrote a letter to former Premier Kathleen Wynne conveying that John Devine had written a letter to him in early 2015 about apparent labour violations, alleged assaults and other problems at Casino Rama—a letter accompanied by a thick packet of documentation of these issues. The same packet was sent to the premier’s office. Read more via this link called “20 Years of Obstruction . . .” from the top task bar of AWN’s home page of its website]

As AWN communicated to AG Downey, what’s pivotal now is that, in order to obtain a gaming license, TorStar, as part of the application process, must address issues of crime or wrongdoing, including any possible direct or indirect association with crime and/or knowledge of crime, pertaining to the gambling industry.

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s clear that there are looming ethical questions concerning any media outlet getting involved in the gambling industry, even if the media entity in question is squeaky clean. TorStar, like countless other Canadian mainline media outlets, is a recipient of money from Canada’s gaming industry to advertise that industry.

It’s difficult to see how any media could objectively report on the known downsides of gambling, not only crimimal-corruption matters such as money laundering and theft, but also addiction-related issues (bankruptcies, divorce, substance abuse, child abuse, suicide, etc.) if:

1) Most media depend rather heavily on the gambling industry for advertising dollars; and

2) In the case of TorStar, it wants to take the unprecedented big leap of directly entering the gambling industry.

Here’s an additional matter that few if any other media outlets will consider:

• Regarding the Ontario Harness Horsemen’s Association, a time-honored example of Canadian culture, leisure and entertainment which is in the sports-betting business itself, the horsemen and all other businesses are expected to adhere to the laws of the land including the Ontario Health & Safety Act, but apparently that is not the case for two foreign entities— casino operator Penn National, mentioned above; and another company that recently made headlines in Canada, the Chinese-owned Royal Milk company in Kingston, ON. Notably, the CBC recently published a story that Royal Milk allegedly violated the Ontario Health & Safety Act but apparently no charges will be forthcoming from the Ministry of Labour, which is identical to the immunity granted to Penn National, former operators of Casino Rama, when similar OHSA violations were found there [Disclosure: As confirmed firsthand by John Devine, a former casino worker and the writer of this article]

• Therefore, a looming question is whether foreign-owned companies like Penn National and Royal Milk have been, or will be, allowed to operate outside the laws of the land, at least in terms of their adherence, or lack thereof, to Canadian labour laws, while grassroots Canadian entities such as the harness horsemen and others, must dot every “i” and cross every “t” when it comes to labour regulations and other laws.

In summary, if AG Downey rejects TorStar’s application to become an online casino pperator, it could be the first time an applicant has been disallowed because they refused to expose corruption inside the very industry they sought to join.

Or, if Downey accepts TorStar’s application, it will beg the question: What motivated the decision? Some of AWN’s followers are suggesting TorStar may have unduly influenced Downey if he grants the media entity an online gaming license. And while at first glance that may seem like a “stretch,” one has to ask what evidence or assurances can be brought forward by Downey to dispel this type of thinking. The more open and honest government authorities are, with full transparency and disclosure, the less room there is for the people to theorize, with greater room for Canada’s heavily damaged democratic process to repair itself while there’s still time.

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