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Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan (right) listens to Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission Chair Paul Godfrey speak during a press conference on Monday, March 12, 2012. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan (right) listens to Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission Chair Paul Godfrey speak during a press conference on Monday, March 12, 2012. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Casino has suitors if spurned by Toronto Add to ...

If Toronto city council turns down the chance to have a casino, at least half dozen other municipalities in the region are game, sources say.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the mayors of Mississauga, Markham and Hamilton have all made public statements in favour of a casino in their community. Others have expressed interest, but Mr. Duncan is unwilling to name names.

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“There have been some outside the GTA as well, but I’m not sure those municipalities want me naming them at this point,” he told reporters on Thursday.

The source said that, in all, half a dozen communities within the GTA have expressed interest.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is eager to open a casino in Toronto, possibly at Ontario Place on the city’s waterfront, a move that would provide the province with some badly needed revenue. Mr. Duncan earlier this week spoke in glowing terms about the benefits of such a development, describing it as an “entertainment destination” that would create 4,000 permanent jobs and generate $3-billion to $4-billion in investment.

But not all Toronto councillors see it that way. The mayor and many suburban councillors endorse the idea, and downtown politicians are slamming it. The issue is a tricky one for the mayor because it cuts across political lines. Some of Rob Ford’s traditional supporters, such as Denzil Minnan-Wong, have spoken strongly against casinos, saying they oppose gambling on principal.

“It’s not a left or right issue,” said councillor Mark Grimes, chair of Exhibition Place. Mr. Grimes said he is open to talking to the province about placing the casino at the lakefront site and thinks council should wait to see details of the proposal before it makes any decisions.

“I want to see what is going to come forward from the province – where is it going to be, what’s going to be in it for the city of Toronto?” he said. “Until then, I think it would be a big mistake to say no.”

Toronto city council will consider two anti-casino motions on Tuesday. One, from Councillor Mike Layton who represents the ward that includes Ontario Place, asks council to tell the province not to put a casino there. The other raises the issue of a referendum.

The possible location of a casino was one of several questions included in a telephone poll of residents in several wards on Wednesday night. The poll included a number used by Campaign Support, a firm linked to the wife of Mr. Ford’s former chief of staff. It listed five possible locations for a casino – Ontario Place, Exhibition Place, the Port Lands, Downsview Park and the Woodbine Racetrack – and asked interview subjects which one they favoured.

The people polled were also asked to rate how they felt about a casino/hotel complex in Toronto – favourable, or unfavourable, on a scale of 1 to 4. Later in the call, they were asked if their view would change if they knew that a casino/hotel would mean thousands of jobs in Toronto.

Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and the manager of his campaign for mayor, said on Thursday he knew nothing about the poll. “I have no clue,” he said.

Residents of his Etobicoke ward, home to the Woodbine racetrack with its slot machines, want a casino there, he said. “My whole ward, 100 per cent of people are itching to get this project on the go. They want jobs,” he said.

Sources within the mayor’s office said they were not involved in the poll. Calls to Nick Kouvalis, the mayor’s former aide, were not returned.

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