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A lot of casino questions (and few answers) at Rob Ford’s executive meeting

(Image: Phil Marion from the Torontolife.com Flickr pool)

MGM and Caesars Entertainment may already be scoping out Toronto as a potential site for a massive resort casino (and have some, er, very nice brochures to help make their case), but yesterday’s executive committee meeting at city council suggests there won’t be any concrete decisions for a while. After listening to deputations from recovering gambling addicts, big-time investors, the Canadian Gaming Association and more, the committee voted to have city staff study the idea and city manager Joe Pennachetti report back in October. That comprehensive report should examine whether or not to have a referendum on the question, the possible effects on job and crime rates, the economic costs and benefits to the city, and—everyone’s favourite topic of speculation—where to put the thing if Toronto agrees to it.

A roundup of the primary topics of debate:

• The multimillion-dollar question seems to be how much money the resort and gambling destination could rake in for the city. Rob Ford’s casino boosterism hinges on the $100-million figure he keeps mentioning—the mayor told the Toronto Sun, “That’s a lot of money and we need that money.” It certainly is a lot of money, but, as Torontoist points out, no detailed studies have been done to prove that’s how much the city stands to make, and whether the revenue would come through taxes, leases, or the increase in economic activity a casino could bring.

• The Martin Prosperity Institute doesn’t believe a casino is a cash grab for the city. The institute’s research director, Kevin Stolarick, warned the committee that 27 previous studies have shown casinos’ costs outweigh their economic benefits by two to nine times.

• The money debate is tied to the location question. The four potential spots garnering the most buzz are the Port Lands, Ontario Place, Exhibition Place and Woodbine. Alan Feldman, senior vice-president of public affairs with casino giant MGM, was quoted in the National Post saying a casino at the Ex could bring $50 million to $75 million in annual lease payments. (Feldman has also said the corporation wouldn’t be interested in building anything at Woodbine.)

• Feldman also suggested that the province’s demands to hurry up and decide or lose the casino are basically bluffs. Though Ford seemed concerned about losing out to Markham or Mississauga, the MGM exec sounded unfazed, suggesting the ’burbs couldn’t attract the big players: “If you’re talking about a large-scale integrated resort, I’d be surprised if anyone found those areas viable.”

• For his part, the mayor is refusing to champion one location just yet. Ford had previously touted Woodbine as a great spot for an expanded casino, but lately he has seemed to warm to the idea of a casino at the Ex: being on city-owned property, a casino there would net Toronto lease revenue, unlike at the provincially owned Ontario Place.

• If the city agrees to a casino and builds it on the downtown waterfront, Ford’s former North Etobicoke riding could take a serious hit. The Toronto Sun breaks it down: since the province decided to cancel its deal with the racetracks, the slots revenue-sharing agreement is undecided and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation hasn’t yet said what to with the 3,000 slots at Woodbine. Should Woodbine lose its slots, it could go belly up and lose roughly 6,000 jobs.

Toronto casino decision delayed to the fall [Toronto Sun]
Province’s casino threat hollow, MGM executive suggests [Toronto Star]
MGM wants casino on Toronto’s waterfront [National Post]
Woodbine threatened by downtown casino [Toronto Sun]