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Conceptual view of temporary casino facility in Toronto. (Handout)
Conceptual view of temporary casino facility in Toronto. (Handout)

Diagnosing Toronto's casino fever: How much is the city willing to gamble? Add to ...

Mr. Phillips at OLG said some of those details are available in bid documents now available for other regions of the province. He said details of a Toronto agreement would be available by the time council makes its decision in April, but not for the January public meetings.

Toronto’s decision is central, he said, to the provincial plan and to municipalities throughout southern Ontario who are considering a casino as well. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of the decision in the GTA,” he said.

City manager Joe Pennachetti says his focus remains on the three downtown sites as well as the Woodbine Racetrack. Public consultations will begin the second week of January, with five open houses. Online workbooks and feedback forms will be available in the new year. “We are going as fast as we can,” he said.

Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the city’s economic development committee, expects even more options will surface if the city approves a casino plan. “We could be surprised with something else coming forward,” he said. “I don’t know what that something else is, but we know people are around trying to find other locations.”

While the consultation process unfolds, city councillor Paula Fletcher says she is worried about the disruption the casino fever is having on existing land planning, especially when private individuals are promoting development on public lands. Ms. Fletcher, who represents the area that includes the Port Lands, points out the area was the subject of a year-long study by the city and Waterfront Toronto on ways to speed the transformation of the vast industrial precinct. Both agreed a casino was not in the cards.

“Did we waste our time for a whole year?” Ms. Fletcher asks. “We’re back into one of these Port Lands fiascos starting up again.”

Toronto Port Lands Corp., the city agency that holds the property, says it is aware of Mr. Sprackman’s plans, but is taking no position on the casino question.

The players

Several U.S. operators – MGM Resorts International, Caesars World Inc., Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts, Ltd. have come to town to scout sites. Closer to home, Onex Corp. head Gerry Schwartz , owner of the Tropicana, who also has four Alberta casinos, has indicated interest in the Toronto area, but not necessarily the downtown. Developer Larry Tanenbaum, chair of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., also signalled his interest in partnering with a major casino operator in a Toronto bid.

Until now, the vocal casino operators have been the U.S. players. MGM Resorts is making no secret about its intention to build at Exhibition Place, and Caesars has released conceptual plans for a Convention Centre project proposed by Toronto developer Oxford Properties Group Inc.

If Toronto rejects the downtown option, MGM spokesman Alan Feldman says the company will look at Markham or Vaughan, not Woodbine. As for the spate of speculation, Mr. Feldman said it is standard when a casino comes to town. “The first level of activity is going to come from land owners, local developers. They hear about this and they think, wait a minute, rather than build personal storage units or whatever, we could build a casino and make a lot more money doing that,” he said.

For his money, Doug Ford says he still favours the city-owned Port Lands property as the downtown option because of its location and the rental income it would generate for the cash-strapped municipality.

He figures the waterfront site, Exhibition Place and the Metro Convention Centre on Front Street are the only three that are really in the running. “Unless someone comes up with some wild idea,” he adds.

In the zone

Everyone is talking about whether the city is ready for a casino, but is it ready for two?

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s plan to increase the number of casinos province-wide includes the creation of 29 “gaming zones” with one facility in each. Two of those zones include land within Toronto.

The first zone includes three areas: the downtown waterfront; a region to the west that extends from south Etobicoke into Mississauga; and another north of Steeles Avenue that includes Markham and Richmond Hill. The second zone is a strip that runs on either side of Highway 427 north into parts of Vaughan and Brampton and includes the Woodbine Racetrack, home to an existing OLG casino.

If Toronto rejects a casino downtown, it could still expand Woodbine or build a casino in the other zones.

Since the province has said it will not force a casino on an unwilling community, operators are considering multiple sites in case one is taken off the table.

But the zone that includes downtown Toronto is the only one of the 29 that does not have an agreement with at least one municipality. In some, such as the Kingston region, local governments are competing for the right to host a facility, says Rod Phillips, head of the OLG.

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