Toronto’s municipal government could reap as much as $195-million per year – on top of a one-time land sale or lease – from an integrated resort casino near the waterfront, according to a highly anticipated report that suggests the city would get the biggest bang for its gambling buck at Exhibition Place.
The new report from Toronto’s top bureaucrat, which includes an analysis by Ernst & Young, features the first specific estimates for the project from a source other than casino operators or the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which favours a sprawling resort complex somewhere on Toronto’s waterfront. (The Ernst & Young study does, however, include some material from the OLG.)
The report also features a technical analysis from the city’s medical officer of health, which warns of an increase in problem gambling no matter where a casino is located in the Greater Toronto Area.
An integrated resort casino on the waterfront would provide the largest windfall for Toronto, according to the report, including 6,800-8,500 construction jobs, 5,850 to 7,300 permanent jobs, $27-million more in property taxes and $106-million to $168-million in “hosting fees,” as a share of gaming revenue from the provincial government.
The fee estimates assume the OLG would be willing to return a much bigger cut of gaming revenue to Toronto than it currently gives to other Ontario cities that host casinos.
“It must be noted that this potential revenue would have significant impact on providing fiscal sustainability to the City’s annual operating budget by eliminating the need for one time revenues and providing financial flexibility to meet growth pressures,” the report says.
The other options the report explored – a standalone casino on the waterfront or an integrated or standalone casino in a zone that includes Woodbine’s racetrack and slots operation – would not be as lucrative.
Toronto’s take would be significantly higher if a new gambling palace were located on city-owned property. The city could earn as much as $250-million by selling or leasing a publicly owned site, the report concludes.
That moves Exhibition Place to the top of the list.
The 192-acre site is one of three downtown or waterfront possibilities that have been mentioned most frequently since the OLG announced its plans last spring to bring a new casino to the Greater Toronto Area.
The others are the Port Lands and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, whose owners, Oxford Properties Group, unveiled preliminary plans for a $3-billion to $4-billion casino-anchored redevelopment earlier this month.
The MTCC’s Front Street site is privately owned.
The city owns all or substantially all of the property at Exhibition Place and the Port Lands, meaning the municipal government could reap between $35-million and $250-million in one-time revenues by selling or leasing the sites.
The high end of that range is for Exhibition Place.
In speaking to casino operators, Ernst & Young found little appetite for a casino in the Port Lands.
“[They] indicated that, while the site has enormous potential, they were not interested in this location citing concerns over the cost of remediation, flood protection costs, infrastructure needs and distance from other attractions in the City.”
The provincial Liberal government has made no secret of its desire for a sprawling “golden mile” of casino-anchored shops, entertainment venues and restaurants somewhere on Toronto’s waterfront.
If Toronto city council rejects a new casino within its borders, the OLG could open one in Mississauga, Markham or Richmond Hill.
“This would impact local jobs and reduce revenue to the City,” the report warns. “Toronto residents and businesses would however still be subject to the broader impacts associated with problem gambling, increased traffic and competition for discretionary entertainment expenditures given that many Toronto residents would travel to a casino in a neighbouring municipality.”
The report is scheduled to go to the mayor’s executive committee next Monday.
At this point, the city manager is asking for permission to conduct public consultations on a casino over the next couple of months.
Council would not be asked to vote on a casino or a site until February or March of next year at the earliest.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, an ally of the mayor and a casino opponent, said council must weigh carefully the pros and cons. “The benefits are certainly significant but the impacts are significant, as well,” he said. “We have to consider the overall general idea of whether Toronto wants to be known for having a big-ass casino right in the middle of Toronto.”
Councillor Adam Vaughan, one of the most vocal opponents of the casino proposal, questioned the estimates from the report, especially the projections on job creation.
Mr. Vaughan criticized the report for not considering potential job losses from a casino and for including estimates on hosting fees that he says are out of line with fees in other cities in the province.
With files from Elizabeth Church