Some are arguing another city could hit the jackpot, and Toronto residents will still give up their money.
But most Scarborough councillors reached this week said they’re being cautious when it comes to allowing the city its first full-scale permanent casino.
Many said they don’t yet have the facts they need for a decision.
For Ron Moeser and Raymond Cho, however, some of their hesitation stems from memories of someone they know who became hooked on gambling.
It happened to a member of a family Moeser knew, he said on Monday. “They lost their house. That left a lasting impact.”
Cho said a distant relative, a man he had invited to come to Canada, lost his business and almost his marriage after he started visiting a casino.
“I went to see him and begged him (to stop) and even cried a bit,” the Scarborough-Rouge River councillor said.
“When that kind of thing happens in the family it affects the children too.”
The province’s Ontario Lottery and Gaming agency announced last March it was willing to permit casinos in downtown Toronto or at the Woodbine racetrack complex in Etobicoke if the city wants them.
Already there’s a $3-billion proposal to remake the Metro Convention Centre into a casino and hotel complex.
The city is trying to find out what Torontonians think through a string of public meetings, including one from 6 to 9 p.m. this Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Scarborough Civic Centre.
Scarborough councillors passed a motion last February supporting, in principle, “the development of casinos in Toronto,” but were less eager this week to support the downtown casino plan.
“I will err on the side of caution,” said Gary Crawford, adding the small-scale seasonal casino at the CNE is different, in its effects on transportation alone, from a downtown casino complex.
Nor is Toronto like Niagara Falls, whose citizens voted for a casino to revive a decaying downtown, the Scarborough Southwest councillor acknowledged. He didn’t dispute such a large investment “can have a huge positive impact on the city, but you have to weigh it all out,” Crawford said.
“We need residents to speak up either way.”
Norm Kelly was the councillor most bullish on casinos, saying it’s not a matter of whether one will be built in the Greater Toronto Area, it’s where.
In a message Tuesday, Kelly said he’d like to see Toronto seize both casino opportunities before neighbours in the 905 area code do.
“With its slots, Woodbine is already a casino. As for the other (downtown), if we don’t agree to it, then a 905 municipality will,” he said, adding not only will Toronto lose the host city’s share of revenue - “think subways or enhanced or new recreational and social programs” - but also associated tourist income.
Meanwhile, Kelly argued, Toronto will still experience the fallout from casino gambling because most gamblers in a GTA casino will be from Toronto.
“In short, I believe that a ‘no’ vote (by Toronto Council) would produce a future that would see no benefits for Torontonians, only problems.”
Other Scarborough councillors, including Mike Del Grande, agreed with the theory one GTA municipality could “be played against another” and Toronto will feel the negative casino effects without getting the benefits.
Del Grande, however, said he first wanted to be certain proponents of a downtown casino were building a “comprehensive tourist destination” and not just a hall for gambling.
Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson, also Toronto’s economic development chairperson, acknowledged some casinos don’t succeed and said the city must “have all sorts of flexibility” in a deal to close one down if need be.
“If we wouldn’t see $100 million (a year in revenue) and upwards, there would be no point,” Thompson added, but said he has spoken to operators who say that level of city revenue is achievable.
Thompson said he also needed to weigh the pros and cons of a proposal, including the creation of more problem gamblers, but argued “they are here already in Toronto” and the city loses money continuously to illegal gambling and casinos elsewhere.
Cho, on the other hand, said other businesses in a city can lose money because people spend it at a casino. He said he hadn’t made his mind up either, but would be “very, very careful” before approving casinos in Toronto.
Chin Lee, the only Scarborough councillor last year to vote against the community council motion supporting casinos, said most of his constituents in Scarborough-Rouge River seem not to want one in Toronto. If worst comes to worst, though, he would rather see a casino at Woodbine than have it downtown, Lee added Wednesday.
Most councillors contacted this week also declared they didn’t gamble and had no interest in visiting casinos, except on city business. “I go to Vegas, I play golf,” Moeser said.