Pressure is building on Toronto councillors to approve the idea of a local casino, particularly on the waterfront.
While the primarily suburban allies of Mayor Rob Ford seem open to the idea, other councillors warn that pressure for a quick decision could backfire.
In recent days:
• Paul Godfrey, chair of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., which plans to build a casino in the GTA, has blitzed newspaper editorial boards. Rather than wait for municipalities to express interest, Godfrey pitched an “iconic entertainment centre” with fine dining, shops and theatres on Toronto’s waterfront. He warned OLG won’t wait until October 2014 when Toronto could put a casino referendum question on the civic election ballot, and said the agency will woo councillors and residents in coming weeks.
• The Canadian Gaming Association, has registered to lobby councillors. Vice-president Paul Burns said the trade association won’t pitch a particular location or operator but will counteract the anti-casino “emotion” expressed by some opponents. “When we look at other communities that have had experience with gaming, a lot of the issues that were raised — prostitution, crime, all those things — never came to pass,” he said. “We want to make sure that they are dealing with the facts as they make a consideration.”
• MGM Resorts International, which is pitching a casino entertainment mecca on the waterfront, recently visited the office of Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the economic development committee. He was home sick but heard, by phone, their pitch for a multi-billion-dollar investment and the creation of more than 6,000 full-time jobs, he says. “We don’t have enough information about the potential negative impacts, the social impacts, the possible merits, but we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” added the Ward 37 Scarborough Centre councillor. Thompson also suggested a referendum could be held soon for much less than the projected $7 million cost of a one-day, election-style vote by putting polling booths only at the civic centres, and leaving them there for a couple of weeks or a month.
The casino question will be on the table at the meeting of Ford’s executive committee on Monday. The motions, one from Councillor Mike Layton and another from Councillor Adam Vaughan, are anti-casino but will open the door to discussion by advocates.
In an interview Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) said he would fight any efforts to hold anything less than a full referendum. Council needs to know what revenues the city would get, see OLG’s relevant studies, get a police review of crime in casino cities and hear from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on potential addiction impacts, he said.
Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) is also warning that a huge complex with restaurants and theatres would suck revenue out of nearby small businesses.
“Council will make as rationale a decision as we can and the data out there suggests the drawbacks outweigh the benefits,” he said.
Centrist councillor Josh Matlow took exception to Godfrey’s tone.
“It seems like the OLG is trying to play poker with the residents of Toronto and that’s not going to work here — we hold the cards,” said Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s). “The pressure tactic is unwelcome. We’ll take our time.”