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Public Consultations on Casinos Coming Soon

Still no clarity on how much revenue Toronto might get from hosting a casino, but consultations will proceed in the meantime.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/2842251766/"}Phil Marion{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

After a day-long debate Monday, the executive committee has given the green light to public consultations on the prospect of opening a casino in Toronto. Those consultations will begin soon: a report on the results is due back at City Hall by February or March.

Unfortunately, however, Torontonians won’t get to find out exactly how much the city stands to make from a casino before they’re asked to give their opinions on whether we should allow one.

Much of today’s debate centred on a report, prepared by City staff with the help of Ernst & Young consultants, meant to assess the impact of hosting a casino here. Many councillors have significant concerns about that report, which projects the amount of revenue we might get, but gives such a broad range—anywhere from $16 to $168 million in hosting fees—that it hardly provides much guidance. Equally concerning to them: the high end of that range is based on a sense of what Toronto “deserves,” not what the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation might be prepared to give us. As described by the City’s top bureaucrat, Joe Pennachetti, the report reflected a sense of what staff think is fair—but that’s very different from what we might actually get.


Related: The Great Casino Myth


The OLG has so far declined to commit to anything specific. They are introducing a new province-wide formula for sharing gaming revenue with municipalities in April 2013; that formula would give us between $16 and 18 million a year. They’ve said that they recognize that because a Toronto casino is especially lucrative, it makes sense to negotiate a separate arrangement regarding one here, but they haven’t said anything—at least not publicly—about what that arrangement might look like.

OLG president Rod Phillips told the committee “I think it’s reasonable to assume” that council will know what hosting fee we’d get before it votes on whether to permit a casino, but residents won’t be so lucky: consultations are almost certainly going to begin before the OLG and the City finish negotiating the terms of a prospective agreement.

It already seems clear that the high end—that vaunted $200 million Mayor Rob Ford keeps touting (which includes property tax revenue as well as hosting fees) may be out of reach. “Are the figures here outlandish?” asked budget chief Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) about that scenario. Phillips replied: “It’s part of a starting point for negotiations.”


Timeline for Casino Debate

November

  • City staff begin “significant and serious discussions” with the OLG regarding hosting fees and location options. By the end of the month, Pennachetti says he hopes to have a more refined sense of how much we can expect to get in terms of hosting fees—but it will still be a range, not a specific number. This will be the information that’s included as part of the public consultations.
  • City staff establish the public consultation procedures. According to direction provided by councillors today, there will be one meeting in each community council district (Toronto and East York, North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke York). City councillors will get staff assistance if they want to hold additional consultations in their wards, and there will also be opportunities to weigh in online. No referendum is planned at this time.

January

  • “At this point it may be difficult to have the public meetings before Christmas,” Pennachetti said, though he didn’t rule out the possibility altogether. Most likely though, consultations will take place early in the new year.

February–March

  • We get a final, exact number—the specific hosting fee the OLG would give to Toronto if council approved a casino.
  • Staff prepare a report for city council, summarizing the public consultations and including the results of discussions with the OLG. The report will also include staff’s recommendations regarding the preferred location of a potential casino, and how much revenue they think is enough to make the whole prospect of a casino worthwhile.
  • Once the report is issued, the matter will come back for discussion at the executive committee, and ultimately, to city council as a whole.

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