Ontario Vice: Booze, cannabis, and gambling in the 2019 budget

Legal tailgating. More gambling. Drinking in parks. TVO.org breaks down what the Tories’ first budget has to say about vice
By Chantal Braganza - Published on April 11, 2019
Five shot glasses filled with various liquids lined up in a row.
Proposed rule changes laid out in the provincial budget would allow cities to designate public areas for alcohol consumption and allow tailgating-by-permit sporting events. (iStock.com/CatLane)

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Ontario’s new licence-plate slogan may be “A Place to Grow,” but the province’s 2019 budget, presented on Thursday by the Progressive Conservatives, suggests that Ontario will soon also be a place to drink in parks, a place to buy lottery tickets using your phone, and a place to hit the bar at 9 a.m. Here’s a look at where the Tories stand on alcohol, cannabis, and gambling.

Alcohol

The 2019 budget makes it clear that the government is concerned about your ability to buy booze — and to drink it where you want to.

Over the course of three pages, the budget notes that Ontario has fewer alcohol retail outlets per capita than any other province in Canada. It states the government’s intention to break down the barriers that restrict the movement of beer, wine, and spirits across provincial and territorial borders (something that the federal government addressed earlier this month with the proposal of Bill C-97). It also restates the Tories’ intention to expand alcohol sales in corner and grocery stores.

Yet the budget lays out very few details.

Where the document does get specific on alcohol is on page 85, which lists changes that the government wants to make to the rules surrounding where and when booze can be purchased and consumed. By this summer, you may be able to buy a drink at a bar at 9 a.m., any day of the week. The proposed rule changes would also allow cities to designate public areas for alcohol consumption; lift restrictions on the advertising of happy hours; and, as was reported by several media outlets prior to the budget’s release, allow tailgating-by-permit sporting events.

Cannabis

Legal since October 2018 and available in private retail stores as of this past April 1, cannabis pops up a few times in this year’s budget. One item of interest pertains to the future of cannabis retail. Only 25 retail locations are authorized to sell weed in Ontario (the province says it restricted the number of stores due to a nationwide shortage of legal product). The budget outlines a pre-approval plan for those interested in opening retail stores once the supply chain opens up.

The application process would entail providing a letter of credit, financial statements, criminal background checks, and proof of ownership of a potential retail location. The government plans to open this application process to First Nations reserves and to cities with populations under 50,000, which had previously been excluded due to the supply constraints.

The budget document also contains projected cannabis revenues: the government estimates that the Ontario Cannabis Store will have operated at a net loss of $25 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year (due to national supply shortages); Ontario’s portion of the federal duty on pot sales is estimated to have brought in $17 million over the same timeframe.

Gambling

The budget indicates that the Progressive Conservatives want to protect Ontarians’ right to gamble. The government wants the feds to reconsider the types of gambling that are and aren’t permitted — including single-event sports gaming, which is currently prohibited under the Criminal Code. “The people of Ontario spend approximately $110 million per year on these sorts of illegal wagers,” the budget states. It goes on to ask the federal government to end the ban and “treat the people of Ontario like adults.”

The budget also addresses the online gambling market, much of which is run by grey-market operators and exists outside the purview of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission. It spells out the province’s aim to open up the regulated online market to private competitors.

The Tories also plan to upgrade casinos in various locations across southwestern Ontario, make it easier for people to buy lottery tickets at cashier check-outs, enable customers to buy OLG products using their smartphones, and allow casinos to advertise free-alcohol promotions.

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