Getting Competitive

Photo by Mike Ford

Senior VP and general counsel Walter Fioravanti on the curious legal middle ground occupied by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation

Walter Fioravanti has been in corporate law for 35 years, and he really hit the jackpot when his career led him to Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). Since joining, he has served in a number of positions related to law, human resources, and corporate governance, and he now serves as general counsel, corporate secretary, and senior vice president of legal, regulatory, and compliance. He recently sat down with Advantage to discuss the history of the organization and the challenges and changes it faces as a government entity.

Advantage: What makes your work at OLG unique?
Walter Fioravanti: We are a Crown corporation [one owned and overseen by the provincial government], yet we also need to be a profitable business. OLG is the largest nontax revenue source for the province of Ontario and returns about $2 billion in profits per year. We are the sixth-largest Crown corporation and the country’s 24th-largest company, measured by profits. We employ 17,000 people, oversee 24 gaming sites, and sell lottery products at 9,800 retail locations. When I joined the OLG in 1990, the learning curve was vast, by virtue of the complexity of our environment. We have the constraints of public service yet the need to be competitive in a business environment.

WHY LAW?

“As a child of immigrants who came from a country that had just lost a war, I experienced my share of discrimination. Law seemed a natural fit with my passion for justice and a belief that people need to be treated equally.”

I can imagine that much of your job is done under a microscope. Who are the people you are most accountable to?
As [an employee of] a Crown agency operating gaming activities in Ontario, I am ultimately responsible to the people of Ontario, and my expenses are public on OLG’s website. I report to the president and CEO of OLG and also have a reporting relationship to the chair of the board. I submit compliance updates to the Audit and Risk Management Committee, [appointed by] the board. I work closely with our regulators, primarily the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada. We are also accountable to other regulators and governmental oversight bodies like the Privacy Commissioner, the French Language Services Directorate, the Accessibility Directorate [of Ontario], the Ontario Ombudsman, and the Auditor General. We report into the Ministry of Finance and also work closely with the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Who are the people on your team?
I’m proud to have three very diverse VPs on my team. Given my background as the son of immigrants, diversity is of interest to me, and it’s what led me to studying law. We all get along and take our ethnic, religious, and background differences for granted. Good work happens naturally for us.

Walter Fioravanti’s
Career Milestones

1973
Leaves university temporarily to become the family breadwinner after the death of his father

1976
Graduates from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of commerce degree

1979
Earns his law degree from the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University

1999
Obtains his certified human resources professional designation from the Rotman School of Business

2012
Completes the chartered director program at McMaster University

How is OLG staying competitive?
We are moving toward a gaming model that utilizes the private sector more effectively. A new model will require operators to assume more financial risk so that Ontario won’t have to dedicate the large degree of capital required to maintain gaming operations. Gambling is illegal unless it’s conducted and managed by the Crown, so we are involved in crafting agreements to provide a sufficient balance of autonomy to the private operators and control in the hands of the OLG.

We take pride in funding Responsible Gambling [Council] programs to ensure the services we provide can be enjoyed without harm. Part of our challenge is debunking the myth that, with the introduction of gaming houses, crime and corruption follows. Gambling is socially acceptable if it’s done in mod­eration. As government regulation increases, criminal activity decreases and allows for more attention to issues like responsible gambling.

You earned your certified human resources professional designation and served as vice president of HR at OLG for seven years. What motivated this shift?
In 1999, the Ontario Lottery Corporation merged with the Ontario Casino Corporation, which had previously been responsible for resort-style casinos. We grew from an employee base of 600 to 8,000 in the space of about three years, which involved massive construction and new hires.

I had already received extended responsibilities outside of the law in overseeing corporate services, which included HR. The opportunity to be responsible for developing HR capabilities and growing the organization was hard to turn down. It gave me the opportunity to develop as an executive beyond being a specialist in one area. I felt quite good about making that shift.

What are the next steps for you?
Gaming consulting with a focus on ethics interests me. There’s so much more work that needs to be done in this area, which brings together all the disciplines of business with a global and historical outlook. I’m intrigued by the work of corporate ethicists. The failure of Enron and other frauds prompted people to ask, “Where were the directors of the board, ensuring management had the appropriate controls?” With my three professional designations, I can have my foot in multiple worlds.