Chamber survey reveals disappointment with casinos’ impact on city.

I’m not quite sure what is driving the complaints and expectations of the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce.

Tourism in Niagara Falls was a seasonal, half-year, day-trip business prior to the 1996 opening of Casino Niagara, with most hotels closing in late fall and re-opening in the spring, and an average tourist length-of-stay of approximately three hours.

With the advent of the casino all this changed. Suddenly hotels were open and busy 12 months a year, and more and more visitors were staying overnight.

A cursory review of Niagara Falls Tourist and Economic Impact Statistics, prepared by the city’s business development department as of April 15, quite literally puts the lie to the Chamber’s complaints.

  • In the four years prior to the casino opening building permits issued averaged less than $50 million in construction value annually, while in the 10 years following through 2006 this increased more than three times – to just under $165 million annually.
  • Over the same 10-year period unemployment rates for the St. Catharines – Niagara CMC fell by 36 per cent – from 10 per cent to 6.4 per cent.
  • The Conference Board Of Canada identified St. Catharines – Niagara as leading the country in economic growth in 2002, due to the “massive casino project in Niagara Falls,” and again in 2005 to expand by 3.4 per cent “largely attributable to the Niagara Fallsview Casino”.
  • The casinos directly employ more than 5,000 Niagara residents.
  • The city directly receives $3 million annually from the casinos’ revenues.
  • On average, more than 30,000 people come to the casino every day of the year.
  • Over 14 million people visit Niagara Falls annually.

The Fallsview Casino, with a total investment value of $1 billion, is the single largest investment ever made in the Niagara

region and the largest commercial development in Canada.

To this can be added additional investments by the Province in the region, including to the wine industry, the $150 million Ontario Hydro generation project, the Butterfly Conservatory and two new golf courses.

Clearly the promise of jobs and economic development and opportunities has been fulfilled.

Given this, rather than asking simple minded questions along the lines of “Do you want more money from the government?” and “What else would you like from your rich neighbour?” the Chamber of Commerce might more constructively ask their members “Given the level of investment and economic activity together with the current challenges to tourism (such as the high dollar, WHTI, competing facilities, etc.), how can we best work together with the casinos and the province to develop a growing and sustainable economy in the greater Niagara region?”.

Such a question would certainly be more relevant to their members, and might even garner a response rate beyond a paltry 12 per cent.

William P. Rutsey CEO, Canadian Gaming Association Toronto