Canada's top newspaper group gambles on casino app to help fund journalism

Leyland Cecco in Toronto
·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Xccelerated/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Xccelerated/Getty Images

As advertising revenues dry up and the outlook for print newspapers looks increasingly bleak, publishers around the world are constantly hunting for new and innovative ways to fund costly journalism.

Related: Why Toronto is taking action against a carpenter amid its homelessness crisis

But launching an online casino is a strategy that few if any publishers have gambled on – until now.

On Monday, Canada’s biggest newspaper publisher said it was launching an online gaming app, in an announcement that signals the extent to which companies are willing to push boundaries in order to survive the industry’s sustained downturn.

“As an Ontario-based media business and trusted brand for more than 128 years, we believe Torstar will provide a unique and responsible gaming brand that creates new jobs, offers growth for the Ontario economy and generates new tax revenue to help support important programs in our province,” Torstar executive Corey Goodman said in a statement.

Through its upcoming app, the company said it hopes to capture a portion of the C$500m (US$395) that Ontario residents spend on online gambling each year – a market widely expected to increase in the coming years as new entrants are granted permission from the province to operate online.

Torstar began publishing newspapers in 1892 and owns more than 70 regional and community newspapers.

Following a bitter court battle, the paper was sold to NordStar Capital LP in August for C$60m. While the new owners have experimented with different revenue streams for the company, including launching a parcel delivery service, Monday’s announcement marks NordStar’s most ambitious bet.

The owners have said they will continue to emphasize the paper’s focus on advancing progressive causes.

“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 the release.

The foray into gambling has caught many in the industry by surprise, prompting both jokes and criticism, but Torstar has a history of using highly profitable industries to fund its journalism. For decades, Torstar owned Harlequin, the romance novel publishers, which it sold in 2014 for $455m.

The launch of Torstar’s gambling app is contingent on approval of the province’s local and gaming commission.