Rob Ford says Toronto needs a “fair” deal before it accepts a major casino complex in its downtown. But what is fair to the mayor is looking like special treatment to the Premier.
The debate over how the province will split the gambling pot with its biggest city continued to rage Monday, with the release of a city report that calls for a “unique” revenue-sharing deal that would guarantee $100-million for Toronto each year and an equal cut of all gambling revenue.
The line in the sand, contained in the long-awaited report from the city manager, represents an unprecedented demand from a municipality and comes just weeks after Premier Kathleen Wynne made it clear to OLG executives that Toronto should not be treated differently when it comes to dividing gambling revenue.
A new funding formula is expected from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. by the end of the month. While the Toronto report provides information on a range of issues, without the OLG numbers it cannot say how much Toronto will make from a new casino complex.
Ms. Wynne wasted little time Monday in dismissing Toronto’s ultimatum for a two-tiered arrangement.
“Let me be clear: There needs to be one formula across the whole province – no special deals. And municipalities need to decide on that basis whether they want to host a casino or not,” she told reporters.
Mr. Ford said the city is not asking to be treated differently. On the contrary, he argued the revenue-sharing deal Toronto is asking for could apply to any community that can attract upward of $2-billion in capital investment and generate $1-billion in annual gambling revenue. “Toronto is not asking for a special deal, we are asking for a fair share,” Mr. Ford told reporters Monday.
“I understand what the Premier has to do,” he said. “She has to look out for all of Ontario. I have to look out for the people of the city. And I am going to go to bat for them.”
In an unusual move, the Toronto city manager’s report does not provide a firm recommendation on whether the city should proceed with a casino downtown, saying instead that any new facility must come with a badly needed increase to convention space. It also rules out the Port Lands as a possible site, leaving Exhibition Place and the Metro Convention Centre on the table.
Rod Phillips, chief executive officer of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., declined to respond to the city manager’s stipulation that Toronto receive a minimum of $100-million in hosting fees. The OLG is reviewing the funding fees for municipalities to “ensure the principles of fairness and equal treatment govern this formula, which will be the same for all host communities across the province,” he wrote in a statement.
The OLG has said a casino resort in the city’s downtown could generate between $50-million and $100-million in annual hosting fees – a far cry from the $111-million to $148-million estimated by the city in its new report.
Asked if the OLG agrees with the staff’s estimates, city manager Joe Pennachetti said he had “no comment.”
“OLG is looking at a new formula for the city of Toronto and any big development,” Mr. Pennachetti said. “I believe they understand our rationale that when you have a huge development like the one proposed for Toronto … there should be a different formula for sharing that. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Mr. Pennachetti described staff’s proposal as a “made-in-Toronto solution,” noting that if council says yes to a casino, it can debate the issue again next year and decide if the casino proposal selected by OLG meets the 43 conditions set out by staff.
But without a firm number on the hosting fee, some members of the executive committee questioned how they will come to a decision on the casino at a special meeting next Monday and Tuesday.
“There are many members of executive like myself that aren’t sold on this yet without having some proof being shown to us,” Councillor Peter Milczyn said. “Without a formula, without money, what’s the deal here?”
The Ford administration tried to shift the focus Monday from the hosting fees to the other benefits a casino resort could bring. “Everyone is worried about this money, what I am worried about is jobs,” said Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother.
The mayor emphasized that the casino complex is an important part of a push to increase convention space in the city and combat unemployment.
“When people go to a convention,” the mayor said, “you need something to do after your meeting or convention. You want to have a place like a casino to go with your spouse or your business partners. You just don’t go to a convention and go back to your hotel room.”
With reports from Karen Howlett and Adrian Morrow
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