Executives at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) will be eligible for bonuses this year despite the expected loss of more than $200 million in revenue and the layoffs of thousands of casino workers amid the COVID-19 shutdown.
Ontario’s gaming and casino sector has suffered immense financial losses since the start of the pandemic. In a first-quarter financial report released Wednesday, the provincial government revealed the expected revenue from the OLG has declined to $600 million from an expected $809 million.
Casinos across the province were shut down on March 17 as part of efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. But while some facilities have started a limited reopening as part of Stage 3 of the provincial plan, a union representing casino workers estimates that about 15,000 people are still out of work.
“It sends a horrible message, frankly, it’s completely irresponsible,” Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, said of the bonuses.
The financial report says the updated figures reflect “revised expectations for reopening of casinos and recent trends in lottery sales.”
The province also announced in May a $500 million loan to OLG to temporarily support the corporation — but that doesn’t mean bonuses are off the table.
OLG did not provide specific dollar figures around the bonuses, saying only that they are currently under review.
“You’d think any discussion about their bonuses should be pushed off to the future but this is about greed. It’s outrageous,” Dias said.
Casino workers represented by Unifor are not directly employed by OLG — the corporation outsources day-to-day operations to private companies.
Laid off workers struggling to get by
As the pandemic drags on, casino workers like Sarah Kristensen are entering their fifth month of unemployment.
Kristensen bought a house in Ajax earlier this year after accepting a job as a table games supervisor at the Pickering Casino Resort. She has nearly exhausted her CERB payments and feels increasingly worried about her finances.
“I wish I was in a position to still be compensated during all of this,” she said. “I’m a little envious of [OLG employees] that they’re not only getting full pay but also bonuses.”
While Kristensen was dismayed to learn that OLG employees may still receive their bonuses, she quickly pointed out that her priority is to start work as soon as possible.
“It’s not my biggest concern, my concern is going back to work. It’s frustrating because we’ve been receiving no compensation for work, it was just the CERB and EI,” Kristensen said.
Table games have not yet been approved to restart under Stage 3 of the provincial reopening plan, and casinos are required to limit the number of customers at a facility to 50 at any given time.
‘Performance-related pay’ tied to 2019
In a statement to CBC Toronto, an OLG spokesperson noted that its employee bonuses are tied to work completed in 2019. The corporation says the “performance-related pay” is tied to annual targets set by its board of directors.
“Last year, OLG generated $2.3 billion for the Province to help fund important priorities such as health care and education,” wrote Tony Bitoni, OLG’s executive director of external communications.
OLG has 446 employees who made more than $100,000 in 2019, according to the Sunshine List.
Its top earners were outgoing president and CEO Stephen Rigby, who was paid $762,458, and executive vice president and chief operating officer Gregory Mckenzie, who took home $673,132. OLG did not disclose the amount of bonus payments it paid dating back to 2019.
The corporation has not laid off any of its direct employees as a result of COVID-19.
Jasmine Moulton, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the potential bonuses provide further evidence that public sector corporations operate under a different set of rules, especially during times of financial hardship. She is calling on the provincial government to step in and halt the payments.
“What we would like to see is the Ontario government take accountability,” said Moulton.
Ontario’s Ministry of Finance declined comment when asked if the province would explore stopping the bonuses.