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First Casino Consultation Doesn’t Exactly Go According to Plan

Councillors and residents start parallel meeting out of frustration with the official proceedings.

Downstairs, the planned consultation in the City Hall rotunda.

The City of Toronto had a plan for consulting the public about the prospect of permitting a casino in Toronto. They would hold a series of open houses—five in all, at locations across the city—with the dual purpose of providing information about the pros and cons of the various casino options, and gathering feedback from those residents who had opinions on the subject.

Wednesday night at City Hall, at the first of those public meetings, that plan lasted about half an hour. Then one councillor stood up on a chair, waved his arms, and said “Hi everyone, can I have your attention?”

The consultation, more or less, fell prey to a coup—one which, as quickly became apparent, was backed by a comfortable majority of the people who were present.

Upstairs, the unofficial conversation in Committee Room 2.


Things started sedately enough. Residents entered the City Hall rotunda to find the usual assortment of open house accoutrements: printed information sheets, large posterboards with diagrams and key details, blank survey forms to fill out, and name-tagged City staff on hand to answer questions.

It wasn’t quite what many had expected, however. When they heard “public consultation meeting,” they thought that there would be some sort of opportunity to speak, well, publicly—to hear from other residents and share their own opinions in an organized setting. To get a sense, perhaps, of whether there was anything like a consensus view about casinos, and hear some arguments for and against.

The first two councillors that we saw when we walked into City Hall said, independently of one another, exactly the same thing: this is how you run a consultation when you’re trying to keep people calm, when you think you might not like how things go if everyone actually gets up in front of a microphone to share their views.

And so at 6:30 p.m., a half-hour into proceedings, Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) got up on a chair. He and the other councillors in the room had been fielding complaints, he said, from residents who were frustrated by the absence of any opportunity to hold a collective conversation. To provide that option for those who wanted it, Perks announced, an impromptu gathering would take place one floor up, in one of City Hall’s meeting rooms, and everyone was invited.

Thirty minutes later, there were about twice as many people in that unofficial meeting as there were still downstairs at the posterboards, in the planned consultation. Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) moderated and Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York) took notes on a large easel that had somehow materialized. (Other councillors present: Paula Fletcher, Sarah Doucette, Adam Vaughan, Mike Layton, and Pam McConnell.)

Of the people who spoke publicly, the vast majority were opposed to allowing a casino anywhere in Toronto. Some lived near potential locations and were concerned about the disruptions to their communities; some had lost a loved one to gambling addiction and were fearful of the social ills a casino might bring. And many simply said that it wasn’t the kind of city they wanted to live in—one that tried to balance its books with gaming revenues. There was one song, courtesy of two Raging Grannies, sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” And there were a few cracks at the expense of OLG chair Paul Godfrey, who remarked earlier this week that we could put a casino downtown since it wasn’t a residential neighbourhood.

There were also some casino proponents, many identifying as union representatives or as people who worked in the gaming industry, who argued that Toronto needs more good jobs and a casino could help provide them. In keeping with the communal spirit of the meeting, residents applauded after their speeches, too.

We asked a City spokesperson whether the evening’s unexpected turn of events might mean that the rest of the scheduled consultation meetings would include an opportunity for residents to publicly share their views. “I am sure there will be some discussion,” she said, though as far as she knew no substantial changes have (yet) been contemplated.

Four more meetings are planned, and a survey will be online for several more weeks.


ONLINE CONSULTATION
Take the City’s survey.


PUBLIC MEETING SCHEDULE

  • Saturday, January 12; 1–4 p.m.
    North York Memorial Hall (5110 Yonge Street)
  • Monday, January 14; 6–9 p.m.
    Etobicoke Olympium Gymnasium (590 Rathburn Road)
  • Thursday, January 17; 6–9 p.m.
    Scarborough Civic Centre Rotunda (150 Borough Drive)
  • Saturday, January 19; 1–4 p.m.
    Bluma Appel Salon at Reference Library (789 Yonge Street)

Timeline for Casino Debate

November–December 2012

  • City held “significant and serious discussions” with the OLG regarding hosting fees and location options. Those discussions produced the number we now have—the $50–$100 million estimated hosting fee.

January 2013

  • Public consultations are held online and in meetings across the city.

February–March 2013

  • 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.
  • On March 20 the Executive Committee debates a casino; members of the public will be able to sign up and offer their views one last time.

April 3-4, 2013

  • City council makes a final decision about whether to permit a casino, and if so, where.

Related Reading:

The City of Toronto’s report on a casino: [PDF]

Ernst & Young’s report: [PDF]

The Medical Officer of Health’s report on the impacts of gambling expansion: [PDF]

OLG’s modernization plan: [PDF]


Comments

  • Miles

    I strongly recommend reading the Medical Officer of Health’s report on the impacts of gambling expansion.

  • CaligulaJones

    If people can stop casinos because a relative has a gambling addiction, can I stop a new bar from opening because a family member is an alcoholic?

  • Thomas

    The alcohol vs. gambling question is an interesting one, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get out of it with a completely consistent application of principles.

    As someone who opposes a casino, but enjoys drinking, the best I can do is to say that alcohol prohibition doesn’t work, as alcohol has been a central feature of human life for literally thousands of years. There’s simply no way to “oppose” alcohol in our society; it’s so deeply engrained.

    Casinos, on the other hand, were only introduced into Ontario a couple decades ago. We got along fine without them. I think it’s worthwhile to try and prevent gambling from becoming even more prominent in our city, since there’s no precident for it and it would be very easy to say no.

    • No Dice

      uh, gambling has also been a “central feature of humanity for literally thousands of years”

      • http://twitter.com/candleflame3 PlantinMoretus

        Not in every human society. But anyway, Ontario has gotten by without casinos since forever, so clearly they are not truly necessary.

  • Diane Samuel

    I spoke with an 84 year old citizen, and had a great conversation. He said he has lived in Toronto without the revenue from casinos his entire life, and why now? The City would become dependent on inconsistent revenue it could not scrutinize, whereas taxes from the City would be legitimate and could be monitored. In effect, a casino becomes a money laundering operation.

    Adam Vaughan said for every slot machine, it would take 13.6 car trips daily to support its cost. 5,000 slot machines x 13.6 car trips = 88,000 car trips in a city which cannot provide enough public transit in the C1 area to go to work on time? Polluting, congested traffic for what end? Not ours as citizens.

    • Penny

      The arguments you make are illogical. I remember the days before computers, photocopiers and cell phones and we got along fine without them. But that doesn’t mean I’d prefer to live life now without them. As for pollution, the biggest cause of pollution in Toronto by far is traffic, particularly cars idling at rush hour. But any plans for subways (which commuters would use) or addotional car lanes, which would stop idling are opposed by people like you. Ironically, one of the benefits of a casino is that.the casino companies have stated that they would be pouring money into infrastructure to get the city moving. But I’m guessing you bike or walk to work so it doesn’t interest or affect you.

      • Penny

        Too funny – I tried to down vote the reply but it said I had to be logged in to do dowvote. Yet when I accidentally clicked the up arrow it accepted it.

      • Eric S. Smith

        “…the casino companies have stated that they would be pouring money into infrastructure to get the city moving.”

        A casino operator is going to build you the subways you want? Rubbish.

      • andthenisaysimbetterthanyou!

        Penny, I fear you may have been misinformed of the actual money Toronto will get from this casino. At most $100 million dollars (but it will probably be closer to 50 million – and maybe even less than that) will be given to the CITY in terms of a leasing fee for using our land and sucking our peoples pockets dry. The rest goes to the private company who owns and operates the casino, and OLG and the province will of course take a larger cut than whatever we get.

        Now, seeing as it costs billions of dollars to build subway tunnels, it’ll take decades for a casino to build a subway for you.

      • http://twitter.com/candleflame3 PlantinMoretus

        Actually your argument is illogical. Just because some things are new, or new to a particular society, it doesn’t follow that everything new is good or worthwhile.

      • Rob Ford’s Underwear

        Pity the infrastructure they’d build with the funding won’t be anywhere near the major traffic generator that is building it.

        Casino revenue would buy the Sheppard subway, eastward only. Over about 20 years. If you want to build it NOW you’ll have to float a bond and the 100m will float about $1b, which will get you 3 stops and a couple km of track.

      • Chris

        If Cesar’s or Hard Rock came in and said “We will build you a subway line, straight up,” in return for letting them build a casino in Toronto, I would tell them to build four of them. Put one at the end of my street. Cool.

        But that’s not going to happen, so they can take their casino elsewhere.

        The only way I’m cool with this is if the city has a guaranteed minimum payout per year, and that minimum is $100 million +.

  • Anonymous

    The City and casino supporters have clouded the debate with absurdly high revenue projections — think of the $400 million floated by the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. This kind of misinformation could only have artificially increased support for a casino. When the final hosting fee is finally announced in March and we discover that revenues have been overstated by as much as an order of magnitude, the decision makers will need to bear that in mind while evaluating the public response.

    If you’re opposed, it couldn’t hurt to point that out in your survey response. (You ARE going to complete the survey, right?)

    • Anonymous

      I did, and made it abundantly clear I don’t want a casino in or near Toronto under any conditions.

    • http://www.t.isgood.ca TOisGood

      Given the way the official meeting was intended to be conducted, it sounds like some people probably see the survey as nothing more than a public relations tactic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704700803 Pat Anderson

    Thank you for this article — it gives me a much better sense of what happened last night than pieces in the G&M and Star. Torontoist, you’re doing it right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Frederick-W-Harrison/719636773 Frederick W Harrison

    The gist of one comment heard last night at the impromptu discussion meeting: Is Toronto going to import a business model set up by the mafia in Havana?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Frederick-W-Harrison/719636773 Frederick W Harrison

    I asked a person who was fielding questions in the finances, taxation, and revenue display area whether any conditions for the casino set out by City Council could be taken to the OMB for appeal, with the possibility that the OMB may decide to remove any or all conditions; he said that, while such a decision would certainly strain relations between the city and province, it could happen. In other words, if the OLG (Paul Godfrey) and the casino consortium successfully lobby the OMB, any or all terms the city insists on can be swept away against the wishes of city council and the electorate they represent. Toronto had amalgamation rammed down its throat against the decision of the electorate – it could easily happen again with a casino, especially since the Ontario government gets a large piece of the action. So much for democracy!

  • Eric S. Smith

    I’ve been to Thunder Bay a few times, which has a casino downtown. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen someone walk into that place who looked like they could afford to lose.

    • Anonymous

      Same thing in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Old age pensioners. The saddest thing I’ve ever seen.