A move by the province’s lottery agency to add a new site in Vaughan to its map of possible casino locations was done without alerting local leaders, says the mayor of the city on Toronto’s northern border.
Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said he only learned of the change, made quietly this month on the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s website, through the media.
“I probably found out when you did,” Mr. Bevilacqua said Friday, adding he is not surprised by the decision, given the growth of the region and its plans for development pegged to the opening of the Spadina subway extension.
Mr. Bevilacqua says the city is still gathering information about a possible casino, and expects a council vote on the issue in the coming months. “You can draw the map as you want, it will be the citizens and council that will decide,” he said.
The addition to the map, an area around the intersection of highways 400 and 407 gives the OLG one more option should Toronto say no to a mega-resort on its waterfront. Under the agency’s original plans released last spring, Toronto’s downtown waterfront was grouped with two other areas – southern Mississauga and Markham-Richmond Hill – in a single gaming zone.
A small section of western Vaughan was identified as a possible site for a casino, but it was grouped in a different gaming zone shared with Toronto’s existing casino at Woodbine Racetrack.
OLG chief executive Rod Phillips has indicated that the provincial agency is willing to alter the boundaries of its gaming zones, but no formal announcement was made about the addition of the land in Vaughan.
Asked about the change, an OLG spokesman said in a written response Friday that the agency added the Vaughan site based on industry interest. The provincial agency made the change in the fall, he said. He did not say why it waited until March to publicly acknowledge the change in the update to its website.
Vaughan Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco – one of two members of the city’s nine-member council opposed to a casino – said the way the change was made does not bode well for any future negotiations with OLG. “Personally I think it was a really underhanded way to do this,” she said.
Ms. Yeung Racco represents the ward that includes Vaughan’s new “metropolitan centre,” where the subway extension will end and which is now included as a possible casino site. She said the city has been working for four or five years to make the area a residential and commercial hub and is hoping to attract corporate headquarters there. A casino is not part of that plan, she said.
The push for a Toronto waterfront casino suffered a setback this week after Premier Kathleen Wynne called OLG executives to her office to tell them Toronto could not get a special deal. If, as many are predicting, Toronto council rejects the casino plan, the revised map gives OLG another GTA municipality to court.
Beyond that, the addition of the Vaughan area raises questions about the future of the existing casino at Woodbine, a short distance away.
Asked about the possibility of a casino in Vaughan, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said he has warned councillors about that possibility.
“I’ve always said that,” he told reporters Friday. “If we don’t get the casino, then I’m sure Vaughan or someone else will pick it up. That’s why I’m a supporter of creating 10,000 good-paying jobs. Jobs are critical. The proof’s in the pudding. I’ve been to casinos. I’ve seen how important they are.”