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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.