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Q&A: Paul Godfrey, chair of the OLG, is on a mission to bring a Las Vegas–style casino to Toronto

Paul Godfrey

(Image: Mark Peckmezian)

You were a popular politician, brought the Blue Jays to town, resuscitated the National Post and cleaned up the OLG. Does the uproar over your latest crusade—bringing a casino to town—jeopardize your legacy?
Anyone familiar with my background knows I’d never do anything to injure Toronto’s image. This won’t be a few slot machines in a broken-down barn; it’ll be a world-class entertainment centre and a tourist magnet.

What will it look like?
I’m picturing something like the Venetian or the MGM Grand in Vegas—a ground-floor casino with a glamorous hotel and unbelievable shopping. I could also see a permanent Cirque du Soleil show.

Why do we need a casino?
If we don’t build one, our tourists will go to Boston, Cleveland and Baltimore, which are all building world-class casinos.

You live near the Bridle Path. Would you want a casino in your neighbourhood?
I make no apologies for having a very nice house. I grew up in poverty and earned my way. But there’s nowhere to put a casino on the Bridle Path.

Really? Knock down a mansion or two and you’re good to go.
Well, the province couldn’t afford the property there. But we’re not going to disturb stable residential neighbourhoods anyway.

Meaning Ontario Place? The Port Lands?
Or Exhibition Place, or we could even build it out on Lake Ontario. But first, city council has to decide if they want a casino. If they say no, the province will still build it, but maybe in Mississauga or Markham.

I can’t help but notice you’re wearing a giant diamond-encrusted horseshoe ring. Are you superstitious?
Sort of. I wear it with the opening facing in so the luck comes toward me. I’m not a big gambler, though. When I’m in Vegas I’ll play a bit of blackjack, but no one’s going to build any hotels with my losses.

Do you see any downside to bringing a casino to Toronto?
It might attract those who can’t afford to gamble, but they would likely gamble as much on the Internet anyway. That’s why the OLG spends $53 million a year on gambling addiction education.

Isn’t that like giving someone cigarettes and Nicorette at the same time?
Maybe, but the province still allows cigarettes to be sold in corner stores, to use your metaphor. Gambling is everywhere. There’s no stopping it.

Councillor Adam Vaughan says that casinos “sterilize” their surroundings.
Adam Vaughan has no experience in this area whatsoever. He’s doing what I figured he would do, which is oppose it.

But he’s not alone. Urbanist Richard Florida says a Toronto casino would be an “unmitigated disaster” and points to studies that show casinos bring a host of social problems, including crime.
Richard Florida has been watching too many movies about Bugsy Siegel.

You’re 73. When will you call it a career?
I’ve been a workaholic all my life, and I’m not slowing down. I work out three times a week, which keeps me energized.

Nice. What are you benching?
I start by running six kilometres, then I’ll do lateral lifts with 12-pound weights while standing on one foot on a Bosu ball. I’m stronger now than I was in my 40s.

For a staunch Conservative, you seem pretty comfortable with change.
I’ve learned that nothing stays the same. Look how Toronto has shed its modest image: we’ve got four spectacular luxury hotels and an aquarium that’s being built next to the CN Tower. We’re on our way to becoming one of the world’s great cities, but if we don’t provide jobs and attract tourists, we’ll fall well short.

  • unknown_man

    Stick to owning baseball teams Godfrey.

    Oh wait you fail at that as well.

  • rave dave

    To quote another great Conservative: “Go f*ck yourself”, Godfrey

  • bob loblaw

    Love the question about why not build it on the Bridle Path.

  • Tony

    He’s being dishonest….there is no way you will attract the big casino operators nor the number of tourist they hope to get by placing it in Markham or Mississauga….won’t happen. I say T.O should call his bluff and see if he and OLG are really serious about other possible venues, and if so, good luck to them.
    I agree with Florida, it would be a disaster to place a introspective casino on prime downtown (waterfront) land.
    Also his comment about Vaughan is off base…..Adam knows his constituents, knows his neighbourhood and is an ELECTED representative whereas Godrey is what exactly??….a paid shill by the OLG and Casino CEO’s???….Godfrey’s proven he’s both disrespectful and arrogant in thinking only ‘he’ knows best.

  • Mothernight

    Tell us what your new retail development will mean to Trinity Bellwood, Bloor Street , The Eaton Centre and Sherway Gardens. Oh wait you can’t because were in to big a rush to do impact studies and really try to understand what the consequences of your decisions are and who are the beneficiaries.
    I hope you weren’t working equally as hard when you cost the province a billion in current dollars building the Skydome , and then left to buy it for Rogers after its bankruptcy.
    Mr. Godfrey predicts another glowing success but what he won’t tell you is the price he is willing to pay private interests to hand over the golden goose. What will our new partners demand to build and run the next mistake by the lake.

    PS the docklands in January can easily be mistaken for Vegas . You had better build a monorail to get there because we don’t want to kill any of the influx of tourists with salt riddled falling chunks of the Gardiner.

  • Joe Posts

    It’s good that we let 73 year olds run the country.

  • Bubba

    Seems that the provincial government has money for casinos but none for good affordable public transit in the city.
    It’s like these guys have a hard-on for these ridiculous types of projects but when it comes to something that will actually benefit the city and the greater good there is no political will. Just a lot of bullshit. Hey Godfrey why don’t you, Ford, and McGuinty shove your heads up your asses.

  • Sean

    Saw this douche bag at Jump the other day. Needed a shower after walking by him, he’s so dirty.

  • Marc McEwan

    Casinos are a tax on idiots. Following Godfrey’s logic …by not having casinos all of the idiots will leave town.

    No Casinos…for the Public’s good

  • Malton

    Wasn’t this the MoFo that was the chair of the Domed Stadium project which cost Toronto Taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and then was sold at a loss to Rogers. Corporate welfare bums. I bet he made a load of dough on that deal.