North American News

As TorStar Wagers its Future on Entering the Gambling Industry, Large Questions Loom About Integrity of Journalism

Editorial / Analysis / By AWN Staff

“Doing this as part of Torstar will help support the growth and expansion of quality community-based journalism.”

So spoke Torstar, apparently with a straight face, on March 1st when the media corporation announced that it’s getting directly involved in the gambling industry.

Need we point out the obvious, that this move is fraught with conflicts of interest? Nevertheless, this “info. bomb” was dropped right when it seemed as if the Canadian mainstream media’s tireless support for unrestrained casino gambling couldn’t get any more blatant or shameless.

To be specific, Torstar, the corporation which publishes the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers, is entering the world of online gambling, including sports betting, as means of raking in revenue while getting around the government’s Covid 19 -related slowdowns and shutdowns of brick-and-mortar casinos.

Various other kinds of businesses—with small independent businesses being hardest hit—are on their own. If they can afford it, they can advertise in area media, but they’ll never get the kind of unabashed media support that the gambling industry gets, despite the money-laundering operations and other corrupt practices that are unique to casinos.

There is one condition for Torstar, which announced that it intends “to launch an online casino betting brand in 2021 pending approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario,” wrote Toronto Star (Torstar) Business Reporter Jacob Lorinc [emphasis added].

Corey Goodman, Chief Corporate Development Officer at Torstar, noted the following in a prepared statement:

“As an Ontario-based media business and trusted brand for more than 128 years, we believe Torstar will provide a unique and responsible gaming brand that creates new jobs, offers growth for the Ontario economy, and generates new tax revenue to help support important programs in our province.” [emphasis added]

Ah, so this is about “growth” for Ontario’s economy? Did we read that right?

It’s not as if gambling is a squeaky-clean industry. A lot of people can and do lose their shirts, their families and sometimes their lives from what can be, for many, a highly addictive activity—although, to be fair, casinos have been a fairly major employer, especially in the most populated areas of Canada such as Ontario. Some of the management and other mid-to-upper positions pay reasonably well. And the casino workers spend money into the economy just like workers do from any other industry or profession.

Yet, this is saying nothing about what AWN wrote about when it formed in 2016: Every dollar spent at a slot machine or gaming table is one less dollar spent at downtown retail businesses across the board.

The bottom line, however, is that while more gambling, including the online gaming being directly sought by Torstar, may very well generate “new tax revenue to help support important programs,” such statements from Torstar dodge the fact that Canada’s provincial governments and the federal government spend a portion of incoming tax dollars on social services programs that, among other things, are used for addressing the problems of gambling addicts and/or their families. We’re talking substance or spousal abuse, among many other things. Therefore, since Torstar is adding itself to the gambling “infrastructure” of Canada, as night follows day, that will result in more gambling and, as time passes, even more addicts who’ll need social services, supported by casino revenue paid to the government in the form of taxes.

ALSO CONSIDER THIS

For as long as anyone can remember, Canada’s media outlets have been advertising a monopoly—the government-run lottery—to boost ticket sales when there’s no competition for issuing lottery tickets. It’s a self-perpetuating system.

However, not content with boosting the lottery monopoly, Canada’s mainstream media routinely ignores or downplays even the slightest leak of information on serious gambling addiction or casino-related crime and corruption. Meanwhile, Canadian media laps up revenues from running ads, in broadcast and in print, for promoting government-run gambling houses and betting tracks, as well as government-regulated tribal casinos.

True, the CBC’s “Fifth Estate” documentary briefly explored the plight of specific gambling addicts about three years ago, but that’s a rarity. Furthermore, as a taxpayer-supported entity to the tune of just under $1.1 billion per year, the CBC can afford to occasionally go out on a limb. You can trust, though, that the gambling industry will be protected despite “limited hangout” productions like that CBC report where the more obvious and expected problems are explored but the deeper stuff is not reported.

As regular AWN readers are aware, AWN has been periodically contacting Canadian media, key politicians, oversight agencies, police etc.—despite the fact that 98% of the time they do not respond to our queries—in order to call their attention to internal casino corruption claims involving management. That includes our sharing of strong allegations of corrupt, unconstitutional and illegal actions by former Casino Rama manager Penn National [Editor’s note: At the top of our website in the task bar, see the posted long-term report, “20 Years of Obstruction . . .” or simply click here].

And take note that even though Penn National no longer manages Casino Rama, that U.S.-based company has not departed from the Canadian gaming industry. A year ago January, the owner of Barstool Sports agreed to sell the popular and controversial digital sports publisher to Penn National Gaming. The deal valued Barstool, which has its roots as a rowdy Boston sports blog founded in 2003, at $450 million.

AWN ASKING QUESTIONS TO TORSTAR

Meanwhile, AWN associate editor John Devine, himself a former casino worker, has been busy writing a letter of inquiry to Lorenzo Demarchi, who is Torstar’s Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer; and Bob Hepburn, the corporation’s Director of Community Relations & Communications, to ask why Torstar apparently ignored previous AWN inquiries pointing out specific allegations of corruption at Casino Rama (a tribal casino near Orillia, ON). This doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Toronto Star’s willingness to probe serious casino issues, especially now that the media entity is likely entering the gambling industry itself.

And considering that casino revenues are among the government’s chief income sources, that’s another reason for Canada’s media to tread lightly on casino issues. Any negative publicity on casinos, especially when government crackdowns stemming from Covid-19 already have resulted in a reduction of gambling by the public, could further aggravate the delicate “status quo” by discouraging gambling, thereby reducing the government’s revenue even more—besides resulting in less ad revenue for the media.

Furthermore, when you consider the Canadian government’s programs for helping non-CBC (non-subsidized) smaller media outlets survive, it becomes crystal clear that those media, to curry favor with their government benefactors, are not going to provide much, if any, negative press on casinos. That way, they can avoid interfering in the government’s casino revenue stream, and also get some of their own income by providing advertising for gambling establishments.

It comes down to this: Any old-school journalism professor would balk at the very idea of a large media organ getting involved in an industry that has a seamy underbelly that might require some serious reporting. How is Torstar going to react if the gaming industry it’s likely to become a part of has even more widespread money laundering, as happened about three years ago in British Columbia’s casinos? Should any news agency put itself in a position where it has to choose between a quick buck and the truth?

So far it seems Torstar is willing to wager on bringing in online gambling revenue, with investigative reporting on any serious aspects of the gambling industry very likely destined to take a back seat. But an especially interesting thing to watch for is whether any other media outlets will follow suit.

SPECIAL PROVISION MADE

As of this writing, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, or OLG, is the only operator approved to offer online gambling in Ontario. But as Torstar, via the March 1 Toronto Star, reported, “The Ontario government promised to open up the market to private operators in its most recent budget, enacting legislation that gives the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario the authority to issue licences to private companies.”

“We want to ensure the new marketplace is well represented with a Canadian, Ontario-based gaming brand so that more of our players’ entertainment dollars stay in our province,” said Paul Rivett, Chair and co-owner of Torstar.

In a press release, Torstar also announced it has assembled an “iGaming team” to head its expansion into the market. The team includes Gil Steinfeld, a marketing strategist for several U.S.-based gaming operators; Don Bourgeois, former General Counsel for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario; and Jim Warren, president of Riseley Strategies Inc., a Toronto-based business consulting firm, as the March 1 Toronto Star noted.

As quoted by the Star, Rivett said the gaming site will include casino games and sports betting. “We want to offer online gaming in a reasonable and responsible way,” he said. “It’s something that, if done responsibly, allows people to partake in their form of recreation and entertainment without making bad decisions.”

One obvious question is this: Did Torstar actively lobby to loosen the laws and get the Alcohol & Gaming Commission involved so the media corporation could get a piece of the province’s gambling gravy train?

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