In a Scarborough forum on casinos, it came down to jobs against pain.
Much as they had at other meetings the City of Toronto called to weigh the question, people spoke about what gambling addiction did to a father, a sister, to unfortunate people they deliver food to, or in one man’s case, to themselves.
The social costs of a Toronto casino - including bankruptcy and suicides - outweigh the gains, they told onlookers at Scarborough Civic Centre on Thursday, Jan. 17.
But others came to say the city already has problem gamblers and the “good union jobs” a downtown casino would bring are too good to pass up.
For members of skilled trades, said a carpenters’ union representative, such a project is “like a gold mine.”
Soosai Raj, a member of Unite Here Local 75, which represents hotel and hospitality workers, said he too was concerned about addiction, but argued gambling was a “personal choice” and things can be done to “minimize” problem gambling.
Another Local 75 member, Teferi Zemene, who like Raj lives in Scarborough, said his children “are working two, three jobs in order to survive. Their future is not like mine,” he said, arguing casinos are an “opportunity” for the city.
Wendy Whittam, also a Scarborough resident, said many in the crowd were “biased”. Gambling addiction is “insidious,” and little is done in Ontario to help addicts, she said.
“As far as jobs go, why don’t you just set up a brothel?” Whittam asked. “There are other alternatives (to generate jobs) and we need to be looking at them.”
Other local people, though, didn’t see addiction outweighing the possible benefits of a casino, and some who did said if Toronto Council can’t keep a casino from being built in the Greater Toronto Area, it should make the best deal possible, so a neighbouring city won’t get the taxes and hosting revenue.
“It’s a sin. But drinking alcohol is a sin as well, and we sell alcohol.” said Petr Pfenig, another Scarborough resident.
“A business is a business, and we need a business here,” he added later.
People with an addiction will gamble, said Maureen Coram, who suggested “having casinos will shut down most of these illegal gambling places” existing in Toronto.
The city wants opinions on the casino question no later than this Friday, Jan. 25, and accepts comments through an online page on the subject (www.toronto.ca/casinoconsultation/index.htm).
OLG is in the midst of a “modernization” that will turn its 24 “gaming sites” into 29 “gaming zones” if Toronto and a few other places such as Belleville and either Collingwood or Wasaga Beach are willing to accept them.
Woodbine Racetrack in north Etobicoke has 3,000 slot machines, the most of any OLG site, and can remain at that limit; the choice now is whether or not to add table games there, Tony Bitoni, an OLG spokesperson said last week.
A casino in downtown Toronto - the city says possible locations are around Union Station, Exhibition Place or the Port Lands - could have 5,000 slots, the largest number in the province, said Bitoni.
Private sector investors are willing to invest $2.5 to $3 billion in a Toronto entertainment complex in Toronto including a casino, but in downtown Mississauga or Markham, Toronto’s possible rivals, their capital investment would likely be $1.2 billion at most.
“It’s not going to be a big box,” Bitoni pledged. “We want to make sure it fits into the community, that it complements the community.”
The city says the Woodbine International Group generated $15.3 million in revenue for the city in 2011 and $3.5 million in municipal taxes. Its slots generated $600 million in gross revenue.
People at the Scarborough meeting were told an annual hosting fee for a downtown Toronto casino could be anywhere from $18 million to $170 million.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a casino supporter, expects a report to his executive committee this March and to council in April.