As a longtime corporate executive in the technology field, Kelly MacDougald was a surprise choice when she took over the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation six months ago. Her first task was to handle a nasty scandal that had occurred prior to her appointment concerning questionable lottery jackpot payments to friends and family of lottery retailers. While she’s still working to restore the integrity of the lottery segment of the agency, she also must deal with the growing criticism of gaming in Ontario and how it impacts the province’s citizens and government. She spoke with Global Gaming Business Publisher Roger Gros from her Toronto offices in March. To hear a full version of this interview go to the website www.ggbmagazine.com and click on the podcast button.
GGB: Let’s start with the basics. What is OLG and what businesses do you operate?
MacDougald: OLG is a provincial agency responsible for province-wide lottery games and 27 gaming facilities across the province of Ontario. On an annual basis, OLG collects revenues of more than $6 billion, with more than $1.9 billion of that paid as a dividend to the government of Ontario.
We also operate a linked bingo system that connects several venues to provide larger player pools and bigger jackpots. OLG is also piloting electronic bingo that allows customers to play bingo using computer terminals or hand-held devices. OLG’s bingo operations support hundreds of bingo charities across the province.
Financial performance at OLG seems to have suffered with the introduction of a provincial smoking ban, the rising Canadian dollar and increased border competition. What plans are in place to reverse this trend? We have introduced some strong marketing campaigns at our border locations, combined with superior customer service, to draw back American gamers.
We are continuing to reinvest in our gaming properties, including the fabulous new Casino Windsor Resort, to open in a couple of months as a Caesars property with a more than $400 million investment by OLG. We’re expanding some of our gaming sites to accommodate additional slot machines and building a new racetrack slot operation east of Toronto. In addition, we’re refurbishing some of our smaller casino properties across the province.
Let’s talk about the re-branding of Casino Windsor as a Caesars property. Given border issues, the stronger Canadian dollar and Detroit casinos, can Windsor compete?
Absolutely. The new Casino Windsor Resort with its very familiar Caesar branding will be a beacon for gamblers in Detroit. With its impressive new facilities and superior customer service, we believe we can recapture our share of the Detroit marketplace and attract thousands of American customers every day to the Canadian side of the river.
In addition, the 5,000-seat entertainment center with Las Vegas-style entertainers, and the new hotel complex, will create even more incentives for American customers to enjoy our facilities.
Responsible gambling is a major concern for OLG. What initiatives are being planned for the future? Do you think the response to date has been substantive or cosmetic?
OLG is strongly committed to delivering its products and services in a socially responsible manner. We look at doing that by concentrating on three areas: public education campaigns, improved technology and development of on-site responsible gaming information centers at our casinos.
On the technology side, we are issuing an RFP to look at biometrics or facial scanning as a means of identifying problem gamblers and self-excluded customers at our gaming sites. This technology has improved significantly over the past several years and may be a major tool in helping keep problem gamblers out of our casinos and slot operations.
The corporation has launched its Responsible Gaming Code of Conduct, a commitment to reduce the risk of problem gambling in Ontario. These are just a few of the initiatives we’ve launched in the past several years.
In the past year, there have been some irregularities in the payouts of some lottery jackpots. What kind of initiatives have been undertaken to restore the integrity of the lottery?
OLG is seen as a leader in North America in the development of technology and processes to protect lottery customers in the purchase and redemption of lottery tickets.
Technological advances included enhanced lottery terminals that provide music and voice alerts to customers regarding the status of their ticket, and will go into a “freeze” mode for prizes over $10,000 to allow time for OLG staff to call and talk to the customer and retailer about the ticket.
Lottery tickets must now be signed by the customer before a retailer is allowed to redeem the ticket. Ticket checkers allow lottery customers to check their own online lottery tickets to determine their prize. New regulatory processes are in place involving special investigations into potentially fraudulent ticket purchases or redemptions. All lottery retailers in the province must be registered to ensure OLG and its regulatory agency know who is selling its product.
Special processes are in place to review all major wins by lottery retailers.
Province-wide public awareness campaigns have resulted in a better informed and vigilant lottery customer.
Will you put a casino into Woodbine’s new development or build a new facility?
There are no plans to develop a casino at Woodbine Racetrack. We have a very successful slot operation there currently that generates significant revenue for horse racing and the provincial government and fits well with the overall gaming market in Ontario.