News / Toronto

Queen's Park cancels sale of provincial lotto

The Liberal government hoped to reap a cash windfall by selling off the lottery franchise, which includes Lotto 6/49 and other games.

Stephen Rigby, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Stephen Rigby, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.

Queen’s Park has cancelled a high-stakes scheme to cash in on the sale of the province’s $3.8-billion-a-year lottery business.

The surprise news came shortly after Premier Kathleen Wynne released the mandate letters for her ministers Friday outlining the government’s agenda for the next 20 months before the 2018 election.

Wynne’s written directive to Finance Minister Charles Sousa was vague, imploring him to oversee the “modernization of Ontario’s gaming marketplace to provide more choice and convenience for customers while maintaining a strong commitment to social responsibility.”

But after she met with reporters to discuss the mandate letters, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced it was cancelling the request for proposals for the lotto business “in favour of a revised modernization approach.”

As first disclosed by the Star in 2014, the Liberal government hoped to reap a cash windfall by selling off the lottery franchise, which includes Lotto 6/49 and other games.

Industry insiders estimated OLG could make up to 25 per cent more money off the lottery by boosting online and smartphone ticket sales and expanding its customer base.

Rogers Communications, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and Gtech-Scientific Games were the only qualified bidders in the auction, but their interest soon began to wane and some players quietly dropped out.

“After a period of due diligence and consultation with globally experienced proponents, OLG has determined that the selection of a single service provider would not provide sufficient value for the province,” the gambling agency said.

In a statement, Stephen Rigby, OLG’s president and chief executive officer, said “in order to unlock the full potential of the business, our approach to lottery modernization is evolving.”

“Under a revised approach, we will seek to enhance our capabilities in technology and innovation through partnerships with the private sector,” said Rigby.

“Our research reveals there is untapped revenue potential in the market. We are now adjusting our approach and remain committed to providing increased revenue to the province.”

Despite the blow, the Liberals insist they are still on track to eliminate the deficit in 2017-18 budget.

“Your specific priorities include delivering on the balanced budget plan,” Wynne told Sousa in her letter.

With the government under fire for skyrocketing hydro rates — even in the wake of plans to reduce electricity bills with a rebate of the 8 per cent provincial tax — Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault has been directed to be an “active listener” as he updates the province’s long-term energy plan before the next election.

The plan, which will outline how Ontario generates and procures electricity, must have a “continued focus on energy affordability for homes and buinsesses,” Wynne wrote to him.

Thibeault is also under orders to have ready for next year a four-year, free overnight program for electric vehicle charging for residential customers and to continue with the Hydro One privatization.

A promised program to provide free energy audits of homes for sale, resulting in an energy rating prospective buyers can check, does not have to be ready until 2019.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has been ordered to lead Ontario’s approach to Ottawa’s legalization of recreational marijuana next year.

Naqvi must work the on “a regulatory framework that focuses on the promotion of public health and safety, including road safety, the protection of young people and high risk users and harm reduction.”

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has been given a deadline of spring 2018 to come up with recommendations to close the wage gap between men and women.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray will continue to move forward with Ontario’s cap-and-trade market in conjunction with Quebec and California. The first carbon auction is to be held next March.