The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a huge blow to profits made by the gaming industry as loss of revenue during lockdown totalled more than CA$200 million. The future of thousands of gaming employees also hangs in the balance as many were laid off and even more were furloughed.

Despite some casinos having re-opened, they are still only operating at 50% of their maximum capacity due to strict health and safety measures. This has left around 15,000 casino workers unsure of their future and anxiously waiting to get back to work.

It is amidst this context that the executives of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) are planning to take bonuses which, put together, will run into the millions. This news left Ontario Premier Doug Ford less than impressed, and he did not mince his words when he called out OLG’s leadership. In fact, he described it as ‘not good’, and its executives as ‘fat cats’ who ‘aren’t too frigging smart’.

Considering the layoffs and that the Crown’s revenue has decreased from CA$809 million to about CA$600 million, OLG’s decision can be seen as irresponsible and imprudent. On Friday, Ford publicly said that ‘they should’ve sat around the table, in my opinion, and thought this out’, calling the decision haphazard.

450 OLG employees made over CA$100,000 last year, with Stephen Rigby, the departing Chief Executive Officer, having made more than CA$765,000.

OLG Chair Peter M. Deeb has warned that putting these bonuses on hold could trigger lawsuits from these employees, but this only served to make Ford angrier. His response was to ‘save it. Maybe this year, they should forgo a bonus’. He also threatened that Finance Minister Rod Phillips will be having a close look at OLG’s internal financial affairs, despite the government being unable to block the bonuses.

It has not yet been disclosed when the Ministry of Finance is planning to look at OLG’s financial affairs.

The bonuses have also attracted the fury of the president of Unifor, Jerry Dias. The province of Ontario had given OLG a CA$500 million-loan to keep the corporation afloat, but executives still felt entitled to such a huge bonus. ‘It sends a horrible message, frankly, it’s completely irresponsible,’ Dias said.

OLG responds to criticism

An OLG spokesperson has fired back, saying that these performance bonuses were tied to work done in 2019. Tony Bitonti also said that the bonuses were offered to all employees and that, unlike private corporations, OLG did not lay off any of their staff.

He went on to say that ‘last year, OLG generated CA$2.3 billion dollars for the province to help fund important priorities such as health care and education.’ However, when pressed further, Bitonti also admitted that the corporation’s compensation program is being reassessed.

OLG’s bonus saga has also attracted the attention of Jasmine Moulton, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who highlighted the discrepancy between privately-owned corporations and operators, and public sector ones, especially in times of financial distress.

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