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cityscape

Toronto Casino Well and Thoroughly Dead

City council rejects both a new downtown casino, and an expansion of gambling at Woodbine.

Mayor Rob Ford at the final council debate.

City council rejected all proposals for expanded gaming in Toronto today. By a resounding vote of 40–4 they opposed the establishment of any new downtown casino (the dissenters were Rob Ford, Norm Kelly, Vincent Crisanti, and Giorgio Mammoliti). This was widely expected, in the wake of a concerted grassroots campaign opposing a new facility, and news that the provincial government would be giving Toronto much less in hosting fees than casino advocates were hoping. Much more surprising was the rejection also of any expanded gaming at Woodbine, which already has slot machines—that was by a much closer margin of 24-20. Woodbine officials have maintained that they need to expand in order to stay alive at all. Even though Toronto has rejected a casino, neighbouring municipalities such as Vaughan might permit one; Woodbine representatives say this competitive pressure will put them out of business.

In the middle of it all was Rob Ford, who surprised everyone by moving a motion to reject casinos even though he has been one of their strongest proponents.

Proponents of expansion at Woodbine waiting for council to vote.

Ford’s move didn’t actually reflect a change of heart on the casino issue; rather, it was a calculated attempt to try and embarrass Premier Kathleen Wynne. The mayor blames her for reducing the hosting fee Toronto initially expected, and thus for killing the proposal entirely. From his speech today:

One year ago, the government of Ontario asked Toronto to host a new casino in this great city.

Since then, Toronto has spent a year grappling with this issue. We made significant progress with the previous premier and his finance minister, as well as the OLG. Those positive discussions continued with the new minister of finance. But when the matter reached the premier’s office it had fallen apart.

Despite the fact that this was the government’s idea from the very beginning, we carried the load. We did all the hard work. Despite the fact [that] a lot of progress was made to find a formula that worked for Toronto and other host cities, and for the rest of the province, it now appears Premier Wynne has chosen to go in a different direction. Which direction that is, we’re not quite sure.

I don’t know why the government has changed its mind. I don’t know why it will not support a fair share for Toronto—and not just for Toronto, Madam Speaker, but every other host in this great province. I don’t know why the premier doesn’t support 10,000 good-paying union jobs.

What I do know, what I do know, Madam Speaker, is that I will not support a casino that is not in the best interests of Toronto. I never campaigned on this, Madam Speaker. I thought that if we could create 10,000 good-paying jobs, and bring in $100 million or more in revenue to help transit and to help people in Toronto community housing, that I believed that was the right move—and I still do.

Hosting a casino in Toronto that does little to address Toronto’s financial needs, that simply makes the provincial government richer, is not in the best interests of Toronto. The province wants money for nothing. They are not going to put out one red cent into the development of a new convention or entertainment complex. The financial risk will be entirely on the private sector. They are not willing to accept a single drop of political risk. Once again, they have asked the council to battle it out, so the premier doesn’t get her hands dirty.

Inconveniently for the mayor, well before today’s meeting, a majority of councillors had already announced they were opposed to a casino, regardless of what the hosting fee might be, citing concerns ranging from increased addiction to cannibalizing local businesses to an unmanageable increase in traffic. Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) has been leading the charge against a downtown casino, which likely would have been in his ward. After the vote he told reporters: “This wasn’t just about a hosting fee, this was about the impact on the citizens of Toronto and the people of Ontario that don’t want us to put forward a policy that encourages more people to get addicted to gambling and raise money in that fashion.”

Nick Eaves, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group, said he was very disappointed in the vote against an expansion at Woodbine and called the decision “a real shock,” but also tried to put a brave face on things. Though he and others from Woodbine said that without an expansion of gaming there, the site would eventually die, today he said, “We’re confident this isn’t the end.” He is now, he said, pinning his hopes on the premier: “She’s made clear that she supports an ongoing and sustainable horse-racing and horse-breeding industry in the province. She’s made clear that in her view, in order for that to happen, there needs to be an integration of the industry back with the province’s provincial gaming strategy.”

Comments

  • OgtheDim

    If OLG and Woodine come back to council with a decent plan, it will get looked at an likely approved. As we have already seen, council bends with the wind.

    Which is why, in theory, if Hudak wins an majority next year, and Ford were to some how figure out how to get a majority of like minded on council, we would see a downtown casino.

    • dsmithhfx

      It seems increasingly unlikely Hudak (or for that matter, Ford) will still be around.

      • OgtheDim

        I think he has the base within his party to make it to the next election. He will likely lose that.

        Then, we get a fight for the soul of the PC’s between the Lanark boyz/Doug Ford and somebody from the middle.

    • SmarterThanYou86

      @Oggy

      Your first paragraph I’m ok with – yes Woodbine will probably get their gaming expansion and they’ll do it at a different meeting. Today’s victory was that we said NO to all of it and closed the door on the downtown mega casino lobbyists for good – go away MGM, be gone Cadillac Fairview, we’re not giving you and inch in the door that you can weasel your way into – we’ve closed the door and that’s that – hip hip hooray!

      As for your second paragraph – those are terrifying thoughts – god help us if anything like that happens, Hudak is a complete imbecile, Ford is inept as a leader and therefore incapable of EVER bringing council together on ANYTHING and how many times do the TAXPAYERS have to say “NO” before casino proponents get the message that casinos are not wanted and certainly not needed in this city.

      • OgtheDim

        Oh, I would hate it too as Hudak is a sham of a conservative, an idealogue with no understanding of what true conservatism means.

        But, in a weird world, I could see 10 clones of Cesar Palacio winning in certain wards.

    • vampchick21

      Stop giving me nightmares! Can’t sleep, conservatives will get me! Liver helps us grow! Hello Joe!

      • Close

        Iron helps us play :p

        • vampchick21

          D’oh!

    • http://twitter.com/geoffdes78 Geoff DeSouza

      At least this time they didn’t bring a vote designed to defeat one of Ford’s plans… and then hand him a victory.

      They have a LONG way to go to live the transit tax vote down.

  • HotDang

    Mike Layton deserves some well-earned kudos for going the extra mile to put the last nails in the coffin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Walter-Lis/571716919 Walter Lis

    Maybe the Munchkins coroner from the stage musical of Wizard of Oz should make the announcement?

  • tomwest

    “there needs to be an integration of the [horse-racing] industry back with the province’s provincial gaming strategy”
    (1) Stop calling it “gaming”. The correct term is “gambling”. Using the word “gaming” implies people playing monopoly, or Dungeons & Dragons.
    (2) I don’t see why horse racing must integrated with other gambling. The horse racing industry in the UK (for example) suvives perfectly well without slot machines at racktracks. People go to the tracks to wager money on the horses (!!).

    • XXX

      I’ll stop calling it gaming when we stop discussing “revenue tools” for transit expansion.

    • http://twitter.com/geoffdes78 Geoff DeSouza

      There’s also a longer history of horse racing in the UK, and even that’s being whittled away (read the Grantland piece on the Grand National for more details on that score).

      I have no issues with the fact that there will always be a segment of the population that wants to gamble, and therefore, much like cigarettes, I’d much rather their money go into public coffers than anywhere else. Putting both types of gaming / gambling into one environment concentrates the potential negative fallout of any facility.

      (Not that I was too worried about negative fallout; my objection to the casino was that the downtown traffic infrastructure couldn’t possibly handle it, especially if the Gardiner isn’t there for much longer)