Scarborough councillor Michelle Berardinetti is adding her voice to the growing number of Toronto politicians who oppose a downtown casino, leaving Mayor Rob Ford and other casino supporters with dwindling odds of keeping the controversial proposal alive at a special meeting next week.
Ms. Berardinetti was one of the few councillors who had not publicly taken a stand on the question, which will be debated at a special council meeting on Tuesday. In the months and weeks leading up to that meeting, a majority of councillors have said they are against plans to build a gambling and convention complex at Exhibition Place or the Metro Convention Centre, prompting some to declare the issue decided even before the votes are cast. Other councillors on the fence, such as Michael Thompson and Ron Moeser, say their support depends on what sort of revenue-sharing deal the province offers the city – which has yet to be released.
Ms. Berardinetti said she opposes building a complex in downtown Toronto because she fears it would add to congestion problems.
“The downtown is just not the appropriate space to have it,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. Gridlock was the primary reason her constituents gave her for opposing a new facility downtown, she said.
Ms. Berardinetti, who said she would have supported a casino on the Port Lands as a way to kick start development there, predicts there is little chance the pro-casino councillors will gain support this late in the debate. “The votes are in,” she said.
That’s an assessment shared by councillor Josh Colle, who describes himself as a “reluctant yes” on a downtown casino, but says many questions remain unanswered.
Mr. Colle was critical of the efforts of the pro-casino forces to make their case, saying they failed to mobilize supporters such as union members or demonstrate to councillors such as himself how a facility would work in the downtown.
At Tuesday’s meeting, council also will consider plans to expand gambling at the existing casino at Woodbine Racetrack. Ms. Berardinetti said she is undecided on that issue, but, like several other councillors, expects the Woodbine proposal to get more support.
Mr. Ford and many of his closest allies say the city should welcome plans to expand gambling because of the revenue it would bring to Toronto. How much the city would gain from a casino complex is unclear. Early estimates forecast it could bring Toronto more than $100-million annually in hosting fees, but Premier Kathleen Wynne ordered executives from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to rework their formula for alloting the payments after The Globe and Mail reported that Toronto would get a special deal.
It is not clear if the new number will released by the province before the special meeting.
The OLG wants to add a casino in the Greater Toronto Area as part of a plan to expand gambling and generate an extra $1-billion for the province.
As The Globe and Mail has reported, the Premier recently has raised questions about that strategy.
If Toronto councillors say no to a casino next week, the debate is expected to shift to Markham and Vaughan, neighbouring municipalities that OLG has earmarked as potential sites for a new casino.