Queen's Park Watch: Casino T.O.
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Queen’s Park Watch: Casino T.O.

Hey Toronto, do you like gambling? Like deficit reduction? Has OLG got an idea for you!

With the pink palace of provincial policy still dark for a couple of weeks, publicity-starved Ontario legislators were ready for a sexy issue to drag the public’s attention away from more exciting political forums like the circus down the road at Toronto City Hall. And what better than Casino Toronto?

On Friday, the Globe reported that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has undertaken a review of their business for the provincial government, which could lead to a recommendation for a casino here in Hogtown.

It’s an idea that gets raised every so often, with the Exhibition Grounds or Ontario Place often mentioned as possible venues.

Last year Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti called for a floating casino with complementary brothel on Toronto Island as a way of boosting tourism and tax revenues. (Thus far there’s been no outpouring of support for legal prostitution, possibly because politicians and media don’t want the competition.) Mammoliti still wants the casino, and this week displayed his trademark candour by observing that it makes more sense to have Toronto gambling addicts piss away the rent money at home rather than in Barrie or Niagara Falls.

Also likely in favour are the folks at OLG. Beaten up by the press and government after getting busted for reckless spending a couple of years ago, they’ve recently seen revenues decline and are looking for ways to make it up. Toronto’s own Ford brothers are expressing guarded enthusiasm, with Councillor Doug Ford suggesting that if the public is on board with a giant neon betting barn it would be a great way to raise cash for the fantasy subways promised by brother-mayor Rob.

Against the idea is Conservative leader Tim Hudak, who in an awesome display of hypocrisy, opined that a new gaming hall would just be another way for the government to shake down hard-working Ontarians for more cash. Hudak, of course, is also concerned that GTA gambling would cannibalize the business of casinos in Niagara Falls, close to his home riding of Niagara West Glanbrook. Times are already getting tough for Ontario’s Vegas-on-the-Gorge, which has been hurt by a higher Canadian dollar and new competition across the Peace Bridge.

Lined up with the Tories in opposition are their sycophants at Sun Media, with closet nanny-stater Christina Blizzard accusing the McGuinty government of “prey(ing) on the weaknesses of their own people to drink, smoke and gamble their way to balancing the books for them.”

The provincial NDP have been relatively quiet on the issue, with leader Andrea Horwath advocating caution but not dismissing the idea. (Casinos were first introduced to Ontario under the NDP government of Bob Rae back in the ’90s.)

Ultimately the Liberal government will decide whether they want to roll the dice on rolling the dice, and they won’t do that until they get a report from OLG in March. However, finance minister Dwight Duncan has acknowledged that a Toronto casino is definitely on the table.

It’s an attractive proposition; more money in provincial coffers, a potential makeover for the funless wasteland that is Ontario Place, and a spot to drop grandma off with a bucket of quarters when you want her out of the house for a while. Just imagine.

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