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The Globe and Mail

When Mr. Casino comes a-courtin,’ it’s all kisses and sweet nothings

I might not know much about gambling, but I do know a thing or two about shady seduction techniques. When I was a lass, courtship did not abound in grace or subtlety. You'd be lucky to get a bottle of Crown Royal and six half-dead carnations from the all-night Shell station.

How times have changed! No longer can the seducer rely on some Pringles and a room at Motel 6. Now, as we saw this week when Las Vegas lotharios rolled into Toronto to cajole the city into building a downtown casino, sweet nothings have become vastly inflated somethings. Rail links, darling? We've got those. Bike paths? They're yours. Jobs? Oh, honey, you won't believe the jobs! Now turn out the lights, would you.

The "Ginger Snap" suite in an elegant downtown Toronto hotel was the setting when MGM Resorts and its Canadian partner, Cadillac Fairview, set out to woo city councillors and "key decision-makers," The Globe and Mail reported this week. Among the promises that would accompany a gargantuan new casino complex to be built at Exhibition Place, near the city's waterfront: 10,000 new jobs, as much as $4-billion in growth generated, enhanced public transit, a shopping mall and a 1,200-room hotel. It sounds like the casino developers put on a few days of intense lobbying – much like the kind of lobbying that Zeus performed on Leda.

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Of course, the plan would almost certainly mean the death of Toronto's wonderful and eccentric annual fair, the Canadian National Exhibition, but the CNE is the nerdy, bespectacled boyfriend in this equation – Jon Cryer overshadowed by Andrew McCarthy, for all you Eighties movies fans.

Poor Toronto. My hometown reminds me of a dateless teenager sitting on a couch, desperate for the attention of any slick suitor who comes bearing flowers and a development plan. It might be time to take advice from our prettier siblings, Vancouver and Montreal – cities that are more experienced in the art of resisting empty blandishments. They both refused to answer the door when new casinos came knocking.

Montreal's casino was supposed to be rebuilt in a grand entertainment complex in the rundown Peel Basin area, a plan proposed by Loto-Québec and supported by Cirque du Soleil, which would have had a theatre there. The promises were familiar: better tram lines into the area, jobs for locals, investment in a rundown area, a chicken in every pot. But the proposal died in 2006 after opposition from locals.

A year later, then-mayor Gérald Tremblay chastised Montrealers for their short-sightedness over the casino expansion: "It's time we stop adopting such negative attitudes … we should be able to at least explore projects that can have a positive impact on the social, cultural and economic development of our city." Of course, Mr. Tremblay is no longer mayor.

When then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell announced plans for an expanded Vancouver entertainment complex (you may notice it's always "entertainment complex" and not "windowless chasm of slots") in 2010, he vowed it would "spark significant economic activity." Glittering numbers followed, like promises of eternal fidelity: 5,400 construction jobs, 3,200 jobs when the casino was built, $130-million in yearly revenue. Local opposition killed that casino, too.

That's Vancouver and Montreal, though. Toronto might have a harder time keeping its knees shut. We might be a bit more like Atlantic City, battered by the weather and the economy, worried that without a craps table we're nothing.

Atlantic City is experiencing its own tale of love 'em and leave 'em woe. Its casinos have been in decline for years, so perhaps it's not surprising that the people of New Jersey fell for the charms of the Revel resort and casino, which was meant to bring a little glamour to the Boardwalk when it opened last April.

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The Revel's backers dazzled with numbers: The luxury $2.4-billion complex wouldn't just be a casino, it would also boast 10 pools, 40 shops, 1,800 hotel rooms, one "Himalayan salt grotto" and zero smokers. Oh, and 5,500 new jobs, of course. (The Philadelphia Inquirer calculated that the casino has hired only half that number of full-time employees.)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the casino's developers $260-million in tax breaks over 20 years. "This is the model for the future," he said, visiting the resort just before it opened. The Revel was supposed to bring in new legions of salt-scrubbing, Belgian-beer-drinking, non-smoking gamblers. It hasn't. The Revel, beset by financial problems, is now filing for bankruptcy protection.

Experienced seducers are good with promises, everything from "as God is my witness, I'll get up at 4 a.m. and change that baby" to "there's nothing I'd like better than to extend your transportation links, sweetheart, right into your downtown core." The question is not whether they can make promises; it's whether they have any intention of keeping them, once the chips are down.

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