If Quebec wants a casino that will attract tourists, the most logical place for it is at the Mont Tremblant resort, according to Gaétan Frigon, head of Loto-Québec.
Frigon, whose marketing skills turned staid Société des Alcools du Québec outlets into tasteful boutiques, was tossing a wild card on to a stack of options on how to develop Loto-Québec’s casino business. He floated the notion of a new casino at Tremblant during a recent meeting with the editorial board of The Gazette.
Tremblant has a $1-billion expansion plan in the works and expects to draw 7 million visitors by 2012. About 45 per cent of the resort’s visitors are from outside Quebec, Frigon said. Many are American and a growing number are expected from Europe and Asia.
“Theoretically, it makes sense. It will probably be a nice area to have a casino,” Frigon said.
Frigon claims to have left his UFABet poker-playing days behind, but he is playing a high-stakes game. The challenge presented him by Finance Minister Pauline Marois since he took the helm of Quebec’s most profitable crown corporation in February is to maintain Loto-Québec’s revenue (net $1.4 billion last year) but lessen the negative “social impact of gambling.” Translation: reduce the number of Quebecers who become addicted to gambling.
There has been a growing backlash stemming from the 100 documented gambling-related suicides in Quebec between 1993 – when Loto-Québec’s casino and video-lottery-terminal network were initiated – and 2002. In his first public speech in March, Frigon pledged to fight compulsive gambling.
At least in Quebec, among Quebecers.
Revenue that might be lost from a planned scale-back of 1,000 of Quebec’s 15,000 VLTs is to be offset by the export of Loto-Québec’s expertise in the gambling industry and through the enticement of more tourists to Quebec casinos.
Hence a reassessment of Loto-Québec’s first casino, which opened on Île Notre Dame in 1993 and has expanded several times since then.
The Casino de Montréal has been hugely successful – with Quebecers. Officials hoped for 5,000 people a day – 25 per cent tourists – but instead locals swamped the place. Tour buses couldn’t even get into the parking lot.
With expanded parking and gambling space, the casino now entertains 20,000 people a day, sometimes 30,000. Of the 6.8 million people who visited the gambling hall last year, only about 10 per cent of them were out-of-province tourists, according to Loto-Québec’s own figures.
Frigon has told a team to reassess the Montreal casino and given it three options:
– Status quo – leave the present Montreal operation as is.
– Expansion of the casino at its current site, which currently has about 3,060 slot machines, 127 gaming tables and 2,000 onsite parking spaces, with nearby lots for 1,500 more.
– Relocation of the casino, perhaps to the island of Montreal.
The status quo can be ruled out: doing nothing isn’t in Loto-Québec’s vocabulary, and it’s not Frigon’s …