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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford during a press conference at City Hall announcing that the end of the debate for a casino in Toronto, Toronto May 16 2013. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford during a press conference at City Hall announcing that the end of the debate for a casino in Toronto, Toronto May 16 2013. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Marcus Gee

Toronto casino was always a long shot Add to ...

Mayor Rob Ford was half right when he blamed the provincial government for the death of the downtown casino he campaigned for. There has been a sharp change of tone since Kathleen Wynne took over from Dalton McGuinty as premier. Gone are the days when the finance minister of the day, Dwight Duncan, could enthuse about the possibility of “golden mile” on the waterfront, anchored by a casino.

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Gone, too, is Paul Godfrey, the rainmaker hired by Mr. McGuinty to revive a faltering Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Not long ago he was doing the rounds of newspaper editorial boards to talk up all the advantages – the jobs, the tourists, the revenue for city hall – that would flow from a casino complex in the heart of Canada’s biggest city. Now he is out, sacked by a new premier who made her distaste for casinos clear from the start. “I know she’s not comfortable with gaming,” Mr. Godfrey told the media on Thursday night.

The two also appear to have clashed on the size of the hosting fee that Toronto would collect, with Mr. Godfrey arguing that Toronto was a special case and deserved a special fee and Ms. Wynne saying that no city should get a special deal.

The result of all this was a confusing message for Toronto. Did Queen’s Park want a downtown casino or not? Would Toronto get a fee rich enough to make it worth the city’s while or not? As a strong backer of a casino, Mr. Ford was left out on a limb. “I am sick and tired of playing games,” he said, telling reporters that he had tried and failed to get a clear message about what the premier wants.

But, even with more clarity from Queen’s Park, it is unlikely a casino would have gone through. City council was skeptical all along and it became clear that Mr. Ford did not have the votes to get the idea approved at a city council meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday. Why put council through “a very divisive and grueling debate,” he asked, “to approve a casino the premier is no longer interested in?” Or to put it another way, why proceed to a casino vote that you are sure to lose?

As councillor John Parker put it, “He probably saw defeat staring him in the face.” Most councillors simply did not accept that the money a casino would bring in was worth the attendant risks – more traffic congestion, gambling addiction and so on. Even with a richer fee for hosting the casino, approval of the casino was a very long shot. Apart from the mayor, a union or two and the developers and casino operators who stood to benefit, the casino lacked powerful champions. Its opponents, by contrast, were articulate and well-organized.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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