Torstar Corp., the parent company of the Toronto Star and other Canadian newspapers, is launching an online casino in Ontario to help fund its journalism.
The company announced Monday that it plans to launch it this year, pending approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
“Doing this as part of Torstar will help support the growth and expansion of quality community-based journalism,” Paul Rivett, chair and co-owner of Torstar, said in a news release.
Torstar was taken private last August by NordStar Capital, an investment firm owned by Mr. Rivett and Jordan Bitove, who is now the Toronto Star’s publisher.
In November, the Ontario government announced plans to create an online gambling market, which would allow private operators to participate and be regulated by the AGCO. The government estimates Ontarians spend more than $500-million annually on unregulated online gambling websites.
Torstar spokesperson Jim Warren said in an interview that the AGCO will begin a consultation process in March and that Torstar would follow the commission’s directions on how to proceed.
“We think that we would offer a very robust, responsible gaming program,” Mr. Warren said. “That’s something I was responsible for personally when I worked at OLG some 14, 15 years ago. … Responsible gaming is the No. 1 priority. "
The Toronto Star has long adhered to the Atkinson Principles, a set of progressive standards espoused by long-time editor and publisher Joseph E. Atkinson. Mr. Warren said those principles will be kept in mind for the gambling initiative.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that’s been in Paul and Jordan’s head from Day 1 is that they want to do it but they want to do it with a product that people are going to be proud of, that was done in the right, responsible gaming practice. The gold standard internationally is the standard that we’ll use.”
The Torstar website says the Atkinson Principles “are confined to the operations of the Toronto Star and do not extend to Torstar’s other publications or businesses.”
Mr. Warren said the gambling initiative would involve the creation of a call centre and IT jobs in Ontario and that its gaming offerings would be subject to the AGCO’s decisions.
“Once we understand things like tax rates and how the business has to be conducted … that’ll give more shape to the business.”
He said the company would be paying attention to two pieces of proposed federal legislation – Bill C-218 and Bill C-13 – that would decriminalize single-game sports betting in Canada and allow provinces and territories to select private operators. Currently, sports bets must include at least two events in a single wager, commonly known as parlay betting.
The online casino, Mr. Warren said, is part of a broader plan to fund journalism with new revenue sources. In November, Torstar launched Metroland Parcel Services to capitalize on the e-commerce boom spurred by the pandemic.
“The whole idea here is to diversify the revenue, to be able to then funnel it back into the front-line journalism,” Mr. Warren said.
Torstar owned non-journalism assets before. In 2015, it bought a majority stake in VerticalScope, a website that operates online forums for various enthusiast groups, for $200-million. From 1975 to 2014, it owned Harlequin, a romance book publisher, before selling it to News Corp. for $455-million. It also operated Headline Coffee, a subscription service launched in September, 2016, and shuttered the following June.
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