Toronto Likely to Get an Extensive Study of Casinos
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Toronto Likely to Get an Extensive Study of Casinos

City staff to put together comprehensive report on the prospects for and implications of a casino development in Toronto; further debate deferred until October.

MGM wants to introduce you to a whole new land filled with rainbows and fun! (Copies of these were handed out to media and councillors this afternoon.)

After a long day of hearing from various interested parties, ranging from recovering gambling addicts to executives hoping to build an “integrated resort entertainment complex” on the waterfront, council’s Executive Committee has voted to defer further debate on a casino in Toronto until they can learn more about the implications of such a project. Mayor Rob Ford moved a motion, which the committee passed by a vote of 11-1, asking City staff to report back on October 9 on everything from the economic impact of a casino to potential sites that might make suitable locations to the effect such a development would have on crime.

Key points of discussion from today’s meeting…

Where would a casino go?
The corporations who want to build casinos have a few key criteria in deciding where to put them: most prominent among them are proximity to large numbers of people with cash, and proximity to infrastructure—namely transit—to facilitate those patrons’ journey to the game tables. Thus Alan Feldman, speaking on behalf of MGM, which is very interested in building a resort complex in Toronto, made it clear that Woodbine wasn’t something his company was interested in—for them, he said, proximity to the waterfront and to the financial district are essential.

Woodbine, of course, has a rather different take: they are extremely concerned that any new casino would “cannibalize” revenue from their existing slots and horse-racing revenues—which would risk, they say, 6,000 jobs. Jane Holmes, Woodbine’s vice-president of corporate affairs, hopes that the City would preserve those jobs by installing any casino on their site (it’s 650 acres, she said, and the separate Woodbine Live project is only slated to take 200 of those acres).

How much would a casino net the city?
Nobody knows. The mayor is saying $100 million a year, but there aren’t detailed studies which chart out the economic effects a casino might have. Part of what City staff will be examining is what those effects might be, both directly (in tax revenue and potentially lease revenue, should a casino be built on City-owned land), and indirectly (via job growth and other spin-off benefits).

Among today’s speakers were representatives from the building industry, who support the development of a casino/resort because of the construction jobs it would create. Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), during questioning, argued that this wasn’t a casino-specific effect: any robust development of underused land creates that kind of job growth.

How much would a casino cost the city?
Another unknown. Many deputants, and many academics who study gambling, are quick to point out that with gambling comes increased crime, addiction, and social ills. Rob Simpson, a gambling addiction expert, told the Executive Committee today that five per cent of casino gamblers generate 35 per cent of the revenue for casinos—and they aren’t the most affluent patrons. Those, he said, are the problem gamblers, and the ones who will suffer most if we put a casino in the city.

City staff have been directed to examine what the crime and other social costs of a casino might be as part of their report.

What about a referendum?
Among the provincial regulations that establish the conditions under which a new casino can be built is one that mandates a referendum, to be held by any city considering a casino, during its regular municipal election. The province is planning to revise those regulations shortly, however, and is expected to remove that requirement. Any referendum the City might hold independently (i.e. outside of those regulations, or if they are stripped out of the provincial process) would be non-binding—although it would certainly be invoked by whichever councillors liked the results.

The City Clerk’s office estimates that a referendum held outside of a regular election would cost $7 million, however, a tough sell for an administration that maintains it won’t spend a cent it doesn’t need to.

What happens next?
City council will have to ratify today’s request for a study; they will consider the matter at their next monthly meeting, on June 6–7.