The question of whether to invite casino operators to set up one or more gambling halls in Toronto will be going to public consultations – but Toronto’s Executive Committee has voted to ask for a better sense of what the city will get out of the deal as those consultations occur.
The motion came from Mayor Rob Ford’s Executive Committee after a day of deputations on a report by Toronto’s City Manager Joe Pennachetti, and an accompanying report from Ernst & Young.
The report extolled general economic benefits for Toronto, and laid out a tantalizing proposal for revenue sharing that could garner as much as $168 million a year for Toronto, or as little as $18 million.
At the top end, Pennachetti told the committee that could mean an end to the city’s perennial financial woes.
But when it came turn for Rod Phillips from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to speak, he wouldn’t commit to the high end of the revenue sharing plan – which would be one of the sweetest deals any municipality on the continent receives.
“We want to have a discussion with the city manager,” said Phillips, who said the revenue-sharing arrangement would likely be negotiated before council voted in March.
Councillors both on and off the committee doubted the city could pull it off.
“The revenue numbers are being forecast on the basis that we can steal gamblers from Asia – then they’re going to land in Vancouver, and we’re saying that they won’t stop at the Casinos in Vancouver, skip Las Vegas and come to Toronto,” said Trinity-Spadina Councillor Adam Vaughan. “That’s the model. And if there’s anything wrong with that model, we’ll make less money.”
Willowdale Councillor and committee-member David Shiner said he needed a clearer picture of the finances before he could even consider supporting it.
“I want to know what the OLG is prepared to put on the table, and the casino operators as well because without that you can’t vote on anything,” he said. “I think we have to understand that.”
Nearly 50 deputations came to talk to the committee – a good many of them workers and management from the Woodbine racetrack in northern Etobicoke. While the OLG has made it clear it would prefer a downtown location, management at Woodbine said removing slot machines from the racetrack and putting them in a Toronto casino would destroy the historic racetrack.
Nick Eaves, President of Woodbine Entertainment Group, told the committee at least one of the two casinos planned for the GTA should be integrated with the racetrack.
“We believe that being integrated into the OLG’s new plan is the only way to turn the risk into a real opportunity,” he said, pointing out that Woodbine provides 7,500 jobs locally and 15,000 across the province.
The committee also heard about the potential social and health costs of locating a major casino. Dr. Nigel Turner, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, has studied gambling addiction and said a major casino would definitely help create more problem gamblers.
“There is considerable evidence that casinos have a negative impact on the health of individuals,” he said, pointing out that people with gambling problems often experience depression, addiction to other drugs and alcohol, and have a greater potential for suicide.
“When a person empties out their financial resources... a lot of people think suicide’s their only option,” said Turner.