As downtown councillors take action to prevent Toronto from getting a casino, Ontario's Finance Minister is pushing back, touting a waterfront gambling complex and the "golden mile" of spinoffs provincially run gaming would create on the lakeshore.
Delivering a take-it-or-leave-it message, Dwight Duncan said if Toronto rejects a casino, plenty of other cities would be eager to snap one up. Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina confirmed on Wednesday that his city has put feelers out.
The proposal from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. for a casino in Toronto, possibly at Ontario Place on the city's waterfront, has divided council, with the mayor and many suburban councillors endorsing the idea, and downtown politicians saying no thanks. Two downtown councillors have anti-casino motions coming to council on Tuesday.
Mr. Duncan supports the provincial agency's plan as a way to build badly needed revenue for the government. The proposed facility would be much more than a gambling site, Mr. Duncan told reporters on Wednesday, in words that sounded reminiscent of the pitch for development in the Port Lands delivered last summer by Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother.
"It's not a casino; it will be an entertainment destination. It will likely be unparalleled in the country," Mr. Duncan said. "These places have some of the finest shopping, restaurants, convention facilities, park spaces, open spaces – imagine an anchor that could create a golden mile on Toronto's waterfront and that's quite possible."
Such a development could bring between $3-billion and $4-billion in investment, he said, and generate 4,000 permanent jobs.
If Toronto politicians take a pass, Mr. Duncan said other cities in the area are "quite aggressively" working to convince the province to send it their way. "I'm not surprised that any number of municipalities are anxious to host one of these," he said. "We will work with those who want to work with us. We certainly won't impose anything on anybody."
Mr. Bratina told The Globe and Mail that Hamilton officials have a meeting with the OLG scheduled for later this month to discuss the future of gaming in that city.
"We need to gather information and see what the opportunities might be for our municipality," he said in an e-mail. "We also need to know what impact any new gaming opportunity would mean to the horse racing industry in Flamborough, which is an integral part of Hamilton's agricultural sector."
Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion said she would need more specific details before giving any potential casino her endorsement, but acknowledged the general beneficial economic spinoffs. "It's up to the private sector really to show they're interested in this," she said.
Toronto city council will be asked to consider the casino question at its meeting on Tuesday. Mike Layton, who represents the ward that includes Ontario Place – seen by many as an ideal casino location – wants the waterfront site off the table. He has put forward a motion asking council to tell the province, which owns the shuttered amusement park, to keep it as "a public space for families and all Toronto residents to enjoy."
Mr. Layton said until the city has a better idea of what the effects of a casino will be in terms of policing requirements and the costs to neighbourhoods, it should hold off on any decisions.
A second motion by Councillor Adam Vaughan asks that no casinos be built without a referendum, noting that 72 per cent of residents voted against a casino in 1997.
"We don't want it downtown, we don't want it in the city and we don't want it on the waterfront," Mr. Vaughan said. "I will stand up to the province, the mayor and anyone else who thinks casinos are a good idea."
Both motions require the approval of two-thirds of council to be debated.
Mayor Rob Ford, a vocal supporter of casinos, said he is fine with putting the issue to a referendum, noting he would like to put a few other questions to the public, including his controversial subway plan, rejected last month by city council.
"I've always supported casinos for job creation. That's the bottom line," he told reporters on Wednesday. "It creates good jobs, well-paying jobs."
Mr. Ford, who represented the Etobicoke ward that is home to the city's only permanent gaming site – Woodbine Racetrack – said that would be his first choice for a casino site in Toronto. " I've always supported the slots up at Woodbine," he said. "I represented the area for 10 years and my brother represents the area now. But I'm open to anything. If they want to put it at Ontario Place or anywhere else, I am open to the idea."
Mr. Duncan said a Toronto casino would not necessarily be at Ontario Place. "I am just saying what if," he said. "I will leave it to the people of Toronto."
With reports from Karen Howlett and Tamara Baluja