Toronto's casino debate is heating up, with MGM set to unveil its vision for an integrated resort at Exhibition Place, while opponents step up their push against a gambling facility.
MGM – which The Globe and Mail reported has met with the mayor and more than a dozen city councillors in the past few weeks to provide private briefings – will publicly present its plan Wednesday.
The news conference will be held at the Sheraton, the same hotel where MGM, its partner Cadillac Fairview, and their lobbyists met with civic politicians, political staff and city employees to show off the three-million-square-foot development that would include shopping, expanded convention space, a hotel and, of course, a casino.
MGM was behind the bulk of casino-related lobbying last month. The issue will go before Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee later this month, with a full council vote expected in April.
MGM is not the only casino operator that has expressed interest in Toronto. Caesars and Las Vegas Sands Corp. have done the same.
And luxury resort operator Wynn sent a letter to Toronto's city manager this week indicating its interest. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe, said Wynn Resorts would work with the city to find an appropriate location and that the facility would include fine dining and casual restaurants, a five-star spa, hotel rooms looking out at the Toronto skyline and a convention facility.
Councillors earlier told The Globe that the MGM tabletop model and drawings envisioned a rerouting of the Martin Goodman trail to run along the waterfront at Ontario Place, while bringing transit into Exhibition Place and expanding its GO station with a link to Liberty Village. Under the plan, the CNE's midway would be relocated further west or to the northern edge of Ontario Place.
John Tory, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader, said on his radio show Tuesday that he had seen MGM's plans and that the casino would make up about 8 per cent of the development. Mr. Tory added that the hotel would have about 1,200 rooms, that an extra floor would be added to the Direct Energy Centre to increase convention space and that the project would create about 10,000 jobs.
As MGM readied to publicly unveil its plans, No Casino Toronto – which, as its name suggests, is opposed to a gambling facility – held a news conference at City Hall Tuesday.
The first speaker was Sandy Garossino, a business owner, community advocate and former Crown prosecutor who founded Vancouver Not Vegas. In 2011, the group led the charge against a proposed $500-million casino in downtown Vancouver.
Ms. Garossino told The Globe last week that the casino industry can be linked to addiction, criminal activity and other social ills, and that good government cannot allow its most vulnerable members to be preyed upon. Ms. Garossino echoed that message Tuesday, and urged Torontonians to let their councillors know how they feel about the issue. "Slot machines are the crack cocaine of gambling addiction," she said.
Councillor Mike Layton, who also spoke at the No Casino Toronto event, said he's received a thousand casino-related e-mails from constituents and heard concerns about traffic and the local economy.
"These are communities we're trying to build here. Putting a casino next to them is going to destroy them," he said.