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Opinion: Bill Walton, Follow the Money

There is a poker game called ‘follow the queen’ - avoid it!
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Many years ago when I worked as an auditor for the Federal Excise Tax branch of Revenue Canada (the titles alone should tell you that this was some 40 years ago) there was one rule we always repeated each morning as we went to work: follow the money. Back in those days, there was a paper trail as businesses used paper cheques to pay paper invoices and the bank returned said cancelled paper cheques to be filed until the auditor looked at them. Deposits, receipts, bills, and promissory notes left a very nice paper trail. Today, not so much.

Still, an auditor can follow the money if everyone’s books are in order. North Bay Hydro sends an electronic invoice to me over the internet and at the same time, they send a notice to the TD Trust to take money from my account and put it in their account. My younger friends tell me that they can even send me money through my gmail.com account although I have been watching for some time now and so far nothing has appeared on my electronic bank balance.

It appears that City council will soon be signing some type of agreement with the Casino people and somewhere in the preamble from the gaming group will be a list of all the benefits of having a casino in our community: construction jobs, workers in the casino, kitchen help and servers for the restaurant and all the secondary benefits of housing gamblers from out of town. We will even get some property taxes and building permit fees if the casino is constructed north of the Callander town line. Mayor Hector still wants some of the residual monies - if there is any.

This will bring smiles to the faces of our council and our hired bureaucrats. It will be similar to the rapture of getting all that multiplier money from the Battalion and Summer in the Gardens / Parking lot / Waterfront / Oak Street or back to Lee Park next year event. This is all great stuff, good for the economy, good for people needing a second job or even part-time work. Real Estate will boom. New eateries will appear. Sellers of luxury electric cars will rub their hands in glee.

Already I have a couple of acquaintances who are practicing shuffling cards. A teenager next door says he already knows how to empty his and his sister’s piggy banks of coins saved in the one-armed bandit toy bank they got from Gramma two years ago. Of course, the slots at the new casino will be electronic so Davie may have to upgrade his skills to learn how to open the machines. A new course at Canadore should soon be available. But I digress.

The old auditor in me says hold on a second. Where is all this money coming from and where is it going? Who are these people who buy tickets or lay down their coin for chips? Who eats at the concessions, drinks at the bar, and buys the souvenirs? Why they are the same taxpayers, workers or retirees, who live in our fair city or the nearby environs. Occasionally some come from away and bring their money with them (we won’t follow their money in this exercise). These willing attendees earn their money through their labour or pension and then part with it for some entertainment or snacks.

This money transfers to the people who provide the entertainment or event. A portion of this money may end up in the city coffers (or not) thus enabling the city to provide services for the people who bought the tickets and even those who did not participate in the events or casino. Another portion of the money will go to the purses of the promoters or owners and indeed they may spread this around the city by means of paying employees and such. However, a portion of this money will slip outside our fair town, never to return. Of course, this is hopefully offset by visitors and businesses bringing money into our town but one can only hope that this balances out.

And there’s the rub: how much of our money stays in the City? Some goes to Costco, more and more goes to Amazon and their ilk, profits scurry away to the Bahamas, Hydro interest payments head out of town to the Banks, and who knows where they hide it. Food stores buy and sell and a few pennies for that melon goes to Guatemala to help people flee their country. Upper levels of governments take a slice of the money but at least they return a portion to us in the form of grants and programs. Following the money is an interesting exercise today.

One can only hope that the Council will not make any guarantees to the Casino group - like putting in free sewers and water or paving their parking lots - all in the hope that we taxpayers will circulate our money through the casino and back (in portion) to the City. And for heaven’s sake, don’t guarantee to cover any losses. We have been down that road and followed our money, mostly out of town.




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