No Clear Case for a Casino, Public Tells Councillors
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No Clear Case for a Casino, Public Tells Councillors

Executive committee to decide whether to recommend a casino on Tuesday.

A rally in Nathan Phillips Square for Woodbine workers.

For 11 hours at City Hall on Monday members of the public, as well as representatives from various organizations and industry groups, went before city council’s executive committee to share their opinions about the prospect of opening a casino in Toronto. No overwhelming consensus emerged, but there was a clear tendency: of the roughly 100 people who spoke, just over half were opposed to the expansion of gambling in Toronto; many more were in favour of it only in certain circumstances. Just 21 of the speakers expressed unequivocal support for a casino.

A more precise breakdown: of the 98 deputants we tracked (we missed about three or four over the course of the day), here is where they landed—

  • Fifty-four were opposed to the expansion of gambling in Toronto. Concerns ranged from the effects of gambling addiction, to damaging neighbourhoods that have existing residential and business communities, to a feeling that opening a casino feels unnecessarily desperate for a city that’s as generally prosperous as Toronto. Others rejected the idea that city council issue a conditional endorsement, agreeing to entertain casino proposals but attaching specific requirements before any deal was signed. Those speakers said they had no confidence the City could attach legally enforceable conditions to a casino proposal, since gaming falls under provincial jurisdiction.
  • Nine were in favour of expanded gambling at Woodbine only. Current Woodbine staff and representatives from Woodbine Entertainment Group shared the same concern: that a major casino anywhere other than Woodbine will mean the end of that existing site, and unemployment for the people who work there.
  • Two were in favour of a casino only if it is part of a convention centre complex at the current Front Street site. These deputants (who own small businesses downtown) said a casino only makes sense if there will be a spillover economic benefit for the surrounding restaurants, shops, and services; an isolated casino that is “inward-looking” will only benefit its developers.
  • One was in favour of a casino specifically if it was at the Port Lands.
  • Eight were in favour of a casino only if the deal included a “labour peace agreement” to ensure that casino workers would be unionized. Speakers to this point were all union members or leaders, and shared the view that a casino complex could lead to the creation of several thousand stable jobs if council included protections for workers as a condition of allowing a new facility.
  • Three were neutral or undecided; of those, two were strongly in favour of an expanded convention centre, whether or not there was a casino attached.
  • Twenty-one supported expanded gambling without citing deal-breaking locations or conditions. Proponents generally made economic arguments, mentioning the hosting fees Toronto would get, along with the job creation prospects.

(If you want the full rundown, head on over to our liveblog of the day.)

The quirkiest deputant award went to Dennis Hassell, who showed up in a tuxedo and channeled the Godfather—aka Paul Godfrey, chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. (He’d appeared at an earlier casino consultation as Darth Vader, too.) And the most incongruous pairing of the day went to Mayor Rob Ford and the workers of Unite Here, the major pro-casino union; they shared the stage at a morning press conference to try to drum up support for a major new facility.

The executive committee will continue meeting on Tuesday, to decide what their actual recommendation will be. Whatever they come up with will go to a meeting of full city council for a final debate within the next few weeks.


See also:

Hot Topics: A Toronto Casino?


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