The Ontario government will not commit to releasing its new casino revenue formula before Toronto city council votes on whether to build a gambling palace, meaning councillors may have to make a decision without knowing how much money it will bring to municipal coffers.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said council’s vote should not turn on the formula. He said councillors should instead make a decision about hosting a casino based on the investment such a project would bring – not on how much revenue it would send to city coffers.
“The hosting fee, whatever number it is, is probably not the question that council has before them,” he said. “The question that council has before them is do they want to entertain a casino? Do they want to entertain a proponent that looks at investing over three billion dollars in the core of the city? Is it something that they want? … That is much more of an impact than any hosting fee that we would provide.”
“It doesn’t seem to me, that whatever the number is, is going to matter much to their decision,” he added.
Mr. Sousa said he is mulling over several possible hosting fee formulas, but he has not yet decided which one to go with. He gave no timeline on when he would make a decision.
The government has pledged to create a formula that would be the same across the province. This is understood to mean that either Toronto will get far less than the $100-million annually that councillors want, or every other municipality in the province will get more than they currently do, and the province will receive less.
“There are several proposals that have been recommended,” Mr. Sousa said. “I haven’t come to a decision as to which one is best.”
NDP Finance Critic Michael Prue, who represents an inner-city Toronto riding, said it does not make sense for councillors to make a decision on a casino without knowing how much revenue the city can expect.
If the government does not release the formula, he said, the plan will probably be voted down.
“The council of the City of Toronto certainly needs to know all the facts, and one of the key ones is: what’s in it for Toronto? Because if the hosting fee is not sufficient, then I think the thing is dead from the start,” he said. “This is an absolutely key thing that needs to be known.”