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High Rollers: we break down five different billion-dollar plans for a casino in downtown Toronto

City councillors could vote on whether to allow a downtown casino as soon as next month, and they, along with the rest of Toronto, remain bitterly divided over whether it would be a money-generating pleasure palace or a traffic-generating crime magnet. In the midst of the ongoing debate, high-profile companies like MGM and Wynn have released flashy plans in hopes that big ideas and pretty renderings will help sway the naysayers. Below, we break down each company’s promises, from free CNE passes to Celine Dion concerts.

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Ontario Place will remain a casino-free zone, thanks in part to John Tory

(Image: Denisdrever)

So far, much of the Toronto casino chatter has focused on which locations are preferred by the Las Vegas heavies, but it’s worth noting that Toronto’s own bigwigs have opinions—and clout—on the matter. For instance, former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, who heads the province’s advisory panel on Ontario Place revitalization, said Tuesday that he is firmly against putting a gambling complex on the site. Tory sent a letter to Tourism Minister Michael Chan saying as much—and just like that, Chan promptly confirmed that Ontario Place is off the list of preferred locations. Tory and the panel will now try to figure out how the failed family fun zone could become a year-round destination for both tourists and locals (without involving slot machines or Celine Dion concerts). He will submit the best ideas for the Ontario Place revamp to the province by Labour Day, which should give the province plenty of time to make vague threats about sticking the casino in Markham instead. [Toronto Sun]

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Doug Holyday wants to ban casino lobbyists (who are already making the rounds at city hall)

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Doug Holyday, one of Rob Ford’s closest non-familial allies, hasn’t yet said what he thinks about the prospect of a GTA mega-casino, but he did come out strongly on one aspect of the debate—he thinks casino lobbyists should be banned from city hall. At an executive committee meeting today, Holyday planned to propose the city stop the sub-set of lobbyists from petitioning councillors, saying the casino owners have deep pockets, and allowing lobbying to proceed would result in a “free for all.” He’s probably on to something: the city has previously imposed lobbying blackouts while councillors thought over over big contracts like garbage collection or voting machines. And the companies that have expressed interest in building the complex certainly do have a lot of money behind them—they include MGM, which has already hired a lobbying firm, Caesars Entertainment and, most recently, Gerry Schwartz, head of buyout firm Onex Corporation and one of Canada’s richest people. [Toronto Sun]

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Paul Godfrey really, really wants a casino, and he really, really wants it downtown

(Image: Ian McKellar)

Paul Godfrey, chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, still hasn’t given up on the idea of a mega-casino in Toronto (he makes his case in Toronto Life this month), and he’s pushing hard to put it on the downtown waterfront. The businessman is basically begging councillors not to dismiss a casino before all the facts are in, and said that, put anywhere but downtown, the complex “wouldn’t be as iconic. We would have to be satisfied with something less.” Adam Vaughan and Mike Layton, who both have anti-casino motions scheduled for the mayor’s executive committee on Monday, didn’t sound swayed by Godfrey’s pitch. “All the research I’ve done, it’s saying run and hide from these things,” said Layton. That, or push them out to Etobicoke. [Globe and Mail]

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The casino debate turns to location, location, location (and Torontonians disagree with MGM’s choice)

(Image: smneale)

Even though Toronto hasn’t agreed to host a casino—and may not even decide until 2014—the rampant speculation as to where it should go continues. The two main contenders: Etobicoke and the downtown waterfront. The Toronto Star reports U.S. giant MGM Resorts International is really only interested in spots close to the lake and the downtown business district, like Ontario Place or  the Port Lands. Though a recent poll touts Woodbine racetrack as a preferred casino location among Torontonians, MGM believes suburban Etobicoke is fine for an old-fashioned (read: lame-o) casino, but not for the multi-billion-dollar entertainment mecca it would like to build.

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Las Vegas heavyweight MGM sends agents into Toronto’s casino debate

The restrained decor at the Luxor in Las Vegas (Image: Jordan)

Reports of Toronto’s ongoing should-we-or-shouldn’t-we casino debate have made their way to Nevada. Gaming giant MGM Resorts International, the company behind Vegas’s Bellagio, Luxor, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage, wants Toronto to agree to the Ontario government’s casino idea. So much so that MGM hired local firm Sussex Strategy Group to lobby city hall on its behalf (Sussex has already had a chat with anti-casino councillor Mike Layton, who wants to bar Ontario Place as a possible site). MGM is floating the idea of a $2 billion-to-$6 billion investment in the city that would go beyond the usual slot machines and craps tables and include hotels, convention space and spas. It’s still too early for specific details of the mega-complex, but we’d bet against understatement: after all, these are the folks who decided to build a 110-foot replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza in front of one of their hotels. [Globe and Mail]

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