In the latest sign of the high-rollers' interest in a Toronto casino, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire gambling magnate and Republican megadonor, has paid a personal visit to Mayor Rob Ford.
Mr. Adelson, 79, is the chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp., one of at least three Nevada-based gambling empires that have expressed interest since the province announced plans to open a casino in the Greater Toronto Area.
Sands requested Thursday's meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes and included the mayor's new chief of staff, Mark Towhey, and his director of stakeholder and councillor relations, Earl Provost, according to the mayor's press secretary. Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, said he popped in briefly to greet Mr. Adelson.
Although the McGuinty government has said it would prefer to see a sparkling new resort and gambling complex on Toronto's waterfront, the Premier has made it clear he won't force the project on an unwilling city.
That means the next move goes to city council, which is expected to consider a city manager's report on the pros and cons of a casino this fall.
In the meantime, MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Sands and others have begun testing the political waters and scoping locations, including the Port Lands, the Exhibition Place grounds and Ontario Place.
However, the shuttered summer amusement park is likely out of the running now that the province has endorsed a report by radio host and former politician John Tory that recommends a mixed-use community, not a casino.
The mayor has said he would support a casino if it is a good deal for taxpayers and in the best interest of Toronto, but his weak hold over council means the decision likely won't be his to make.
Mr. Adelson and five other Sands representatives were added to Toronto's lobbyist registry one day before the CEO's meeting with Mr. Ford.
Mr. Adelson didn't say much when he left the mayor's office on Thursday. "There's lots of ifs," he told the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun before retreating with his wife, Miriam, to a black stretch limo in the city hall garage.
Mr. Adelson is the latest high-profile character to meet with Mr. Ford.
Comedian Dave Chappelle dropped in to the mayor's office unannounced on Wednesday to ask about the city's smoking bylaws, and comedy superstars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis appeared with Mr. Ford at a promotional event for their movie The Campaign last month.
But Mr. Adelson's visit was of a more serious nature.
With a net worth of $24.9-billion, Mr. Adelson would be a major new power player in Toronto if his company won the rights to a gambling palace here.
The casino mogul, who is the 14th richest man on the planet, according to Forbes Magazine, is using some of his fortune to improve Republican fortunes in this election season in the United States, where he is the country's single largest super PAC donor, according to CBS news.
After almost single-handedly bankrolling former Speaker Newt Gingrich's failed bid for the Republican nomination, Mr. Adelson switched allegiances to presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
He has said he could spend an "unlimited" sum on Mr. Romney's quest to unseat President Barack Obama.
In the meantime, his company is spending some of its money on legal bills.
Last year, Las Vegas Sands Corp. revealed it was being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations the company bribed its way into a larger casino empire in Macau. As well, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles is probing whether Sands laundered money by accepting millions in gambling cash from patrons accused of drug dealing and embezzlement.
Doug Holyday, the deputy mayor, and Mike Layton, one of council's most outspoken casino opponents, both called unfettered lobbying ahead of the fall casino vote a concern.
"On a major matter like this I think we'd be better off to not have the lobbyists interfering with councillors," said Mr. Holyday, who moved a motion at executive committee in May asking staff to study a casino-related lobbying ban.
That study is due at the same time as the larger casino report, leaving gambling promoters months to twist arms before the vote.
"These casinos are in the business of shiny lights and making us believe that a jackpot is possible," Mr. Layton said. "I think it's rather dangerous, before we have any facts on the table, to have these lobbyists be able to come to city hall and promise the world."