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Ontario’s vice grip: Budget extends freedoms on drinking, gambling

Diana Pereira, 680News and CityNews

Last Updated Apr 11, 2019 at 9:00 pm EST

Move over Las Vegas, Ontario is poised to give Sin City a run for its money.

The 2019 provincial budget dramatically loosens the government’s grip on vices, giving Ontarians easier access to alcohol and more options when it comes to gambling.

The Ford government not only reiterated its commitment to expand the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, and allow tailgating at sporting events, but also introduced a number of new initiatives that could turn Ontario into the unofficial party province.

Toronto’s parks are already rife with covert drinking come the summer months, but you may soon be able to imbibe without stashing your tall can when a cop rolls by.

The government plans on introducing legislation that would allow municipalities to designate parks for the consumption of alcohol – something Toronto city council has already expressed an interest in.

You’ll also be able to start drinking earlier, and possibly later, at licenced establishments.

Bars, restaurants and golf courses in Ontario will be able to start serving alcohol at 9 a.m., seven days a week. The current legal start time is 11 a.m.

The province also hinted that last call could be pushed beyond 2 a.m.

“The government will continue consulting further on measures related to the additional extension of hours,” the budget stated.

The 9 a.m. first call would also apply to “by the glass” licences and Special Occasion Permits.

“The cornerstone of putting people first is consumer choice and convenience,” said Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. “That is why our government is taking steps to modernize the way we sell, distribute and consume alcohol in Ontario.”

The government will also remove the prescribed serving sizes at wineries and breweries, meaning your thimble-sized sample of vino could conceivably become a full glass.

Advertising rules will also be amended to allow bars to promote “Happy Hour” – something groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have railed against in the past.

The government also stressed that casinos are permitted to serve free alcohol, and the budget makes it clear that they will now be able to advertise that perk.

“This change will level the playing field for Ontario casinos and enable them to compete more effectively with those in the United States,” the budget states.

The majority of changes to the rules concerning alcohol are expected to be in place by the summer of 2019.

The government said it does not yet have a strict timeline on the planned expansion of beer and wine sales in corner stores, but Fedeli made it clear that it’s a priority.

“Consider this; there are more than 8,000 retail stores in Quebec selling beverage alcohol, but less than 3,000 retail stores in Ontario. The time for change is long overdue,” he said.

When asked about the possible social impacts related to the increased access to alcohol, Fedeli said he trusted the people of Ontario to act responsibly.

“We trust people to make the right decisions,” he said. “The province is ready for these changes.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Fedeli’s response was insufficient.

“When you make these kind of changes you have to recognize that they will have (social) impacts and plan for those impacts,” Horwath said. “Any person who has lost a loved one to drunk driving would be horrified by the Minister’s response.”

More gambling options

While you’re sipping your 9 a.m. beer at the local pub, you’ll also be able to bet on the Leafs game or buy a lottery ticket without leaving your barstool.

The budget commits to “offering consumers the ability to purchase products such as Pro-Line and Lotto 6/49 using their smartphones.”

OLG lottery terminals will also be expanded to provide more interactive gaming experiences, although no further details were provided.

The government has made it clear that it wants a chunk of the gambling money that often flees Ontario to Vegas, or overseas online gambling sites.

“Today, Ontarians spend an estimated $500 million a year gambling online, with most of that money spent on illegal websites,” the budget reads. “As a result the Province intends to establish a competitive market for online legal gambling…”

The province plans to entice gamblers to place their bets in Ontario by offering single-game betting options – something they’ve asked the federal government to green light.

Currently, sports gamblers in Ontario must place a minimum three-game parlay through the OLG’s Pro-Line system.

“It is time to usher Ontario out of the gambling prohibition era and treat the people of Ontario as adults by allowing them to bet on the outcome of a single sporting event,” the government stressed.

To make a long story short, the 2019 provincial budget will give Ontarians more ways to gamble, and easier access to the booze that will help them forget about their losing bets. But the house always wins.

Related stories:

5 interesting takeaways from the provincial budget
Funding for colleges, universities, increasingly tied to performance outcomes
No new taxes but Ontario budget won’t be balanced until after next election
4 key priorities: Breaking down Fedeli’s budget speech

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