While other casino operators have gone for the hard sell – taking out advertisements, releasing drawings, lobbying feverishly – Las Vegas Sands Corp. has been relatively quiet when it comes to its plans for a Toronto casino.
But Andy Abboud, the company’s vice-president of government relations and community development, said Tuesday that doesn’t mean that Sands has fallen too far out of the race.
“We respect the process and we understand that there is going to be a competition, there is going to be a bidding process. And, quite frankly, the time to show your cards and to show people why you’re a better operator is during the bidding process,” he said in a conference call.
Mr. Abboud said the company has not wanted to overstate its position or lobby too hard, since casinos can be controversial.
“We did not feel that we needed to be aggressive on the lobbying side until the city is comfortable with the gaming companies coming in and making their presentations,” he said. “And we think the time for those presentations is later in the process, not today.”
Nevada-based Sands, best known for its billionaire owner Sheldon Adelson, said in January it would be interested in building a casino only if it was at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre because the Port Lands and Exhibition Place are too far from downtown. The company said Toronto could greatly improve its place on the global convention circuit by expanding the Front Street facility, with the help of a casino.
But Sands did not appear to do any lobbying on the Toronto casino front in February, according to the city’s lobbyist registry. A lobbyist working on the company’s behalf has met with at least three councillors in March.
The approach by Sands is in contrast to another U.S.-based casino operator, MGM Resorts, which lobbied the mayor and more than a dozen councillors last month alone. MGM released drawings of its proposed casino and resort at Exhibition Place earlier this month. The company also took out advertisements in several newspapers and, last weekend, held a career showcase.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., which has also expressed interest in a Toronto casino, released drawings of its proposed gaming facility at the convention centre site in November.
Mr. Abboud described a Sands facility in Toronto as a “game changer.”
“We’re trying to emphasize and make the point that this is a much bigger issue than just the expansion of gaming, that is an opportunity for Toronto to go to another level of entertainment through the convention and trade show market,” he said.
David Whitaker, president and chief executive officer of Tourism Toronto, and Terry Mundell, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, were also on the line during the phone interview.
Mr. Whitaker said each year Toronto is visited by about 175,000 delegates who spend approximately $350-million. He said an expanded convention centre would give Toronto the ability to go after 400 conventions that are too large for the existing facility.
“Toronto can’t stand still,” he said.
Mr. Mundell said a revamped facility would put the city back in the top tier of convention centres in North America.
City councillors had been expected to vote on the casino issue next month, but a highly anticipated staff report was delayed. An exact date has not been set.
With a report from Elizabeth Church