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Exhibition Place emerges as favoured bet for Toronto casino Add to ...

Exhibition Place is emerging as a new leading contender to host a resort casino, with Toronto’s mayor making it clear his priority is to reap the extra cash that could come from erecting the facility on city-owned land.

But a council decision on where to put a casino – or whether to accept one at all – won’t happen until this fall at the earliest.

“If we have it at Ontario Place, we’re not going to get as much money. We all know that,” Rob Ford told the executive committee Monday. “If we put it at Exhibition Place, we’ll get a lot of money on that. Am I saying that’s the right thing to do? Right now, I’m not quite sure.”

In a bid to answer that question and an avalanche of others, Mr. Ford and his committee colleagues voted to ask staff to prepare a sweeping report on a Toronto casino by October.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced this year that it plans to open a new casino in the Greater Toronto Area.

The province has said it won’t impose a gambling complex on an unwilling city, but OLG’s chairman and the Finance Minister have made it clear their first choice is a luxurious resort-casino on Toronto’s waterfront.

That has left the city with a de facto right of first refusal; if Toronto says no, some suburban municipalities have already vowed to snap it up.

The October report is expected to explore, among other issues, the number and kind of jobs a casino might create, the revenue it could provide to the city, and the impact it would have on pre-existing businesses, social services and crime rates.

It will also grade potential locations, with a focus on identifying suitable city-owned land.

The four locations that have been bandied about most often are the Port Lands, provincially owned Ontario Place, Exhibition Place and Woodbine Racetrack, where gamblers can already play the slots.

Like the mayor, MGM Resorts International slightly prefers Exhibition Place to the Port Lands or Ontario Place.

The Las Vegas entertainment behemoth behind such properties as Bellagio, MGM and Luxor is one of at least three major players that have publicly expressed interest in a Toronto casino. Caesars Entertainment and Canada’s Onex Corp. are the others.

“At first blush, Exhibition Place might be a little bit more compelling, simply because it’s got a lot of infrastructure for meetings, conventions and entertainment that already exist there,” Alan Feldman, MGM’s vice-president of public affairs, told reporters after addressing the committee.

Mr. Feldman has already rejected Woodbine, saying the North Etobicoke site is too far from downtown and the lake for the sprawling resort complex his company normally builds.

Meanwhile, Woodbine, the racetrack that hosts the Queen’s Plate, warned the committee that it cannot survive if its slot machines are removed to make way for a glitzy new casino on the city’s waterfront.

“If the slots were removed from Woodbine, you would see the end of Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto,” said Jane Holmes, the vice-president of corporate affairs for Woodbine Entertainment Group.

That would mean the loss of 6,000 jobs, she added.

Councillor Adam Vaughan, a casino opponent advocating for a referendum on the matter during the 2014 election, questioned the wisdom of locating a casino at Exhibition Place.

“We’re going to give away the CNE to a private corporation and get a few million dollars back in rent? There are more questions than answers in the presentations today,” he said.

Many of the presenters who spoke to the committee Monday warned about the social ills that could accompany a casino.

“The worst possible outcome is to ram it through, put in a big casino and we have no measures to prevent harm,” said Rob Simpson, former president of the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre. “That would be the worst outcome for Toronto and I think for Ontario.”

Follow on Twitter: @kellygrant1

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