Paul Godfrey, the chair of Ontario's lottery corporation and a long-time force to be reckoned with in Toronto politics, says he'd like to see a casino on the city's downtown waterfront and is urging local councillors to wait for all the facts before they dismiss the idea out of hand.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. revealed earlier this year that it wants to open a casino in the Greater Toronto Area as part of a sweeping overhaul of the province's gaming industry. No site has been chosen, but major casino operators have signalled they want a downtown location and provincial Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has talked enthusiastically about a new waterfront gambling complex that could create a "golden mile" on the city's shore.
Mr. Godfrey, a prominent figure in the city's business and political circles since the 1970s and a long-serving chair of the former Metro council, added his voice to that chorus Wednesday, saying he believes a downtown site is the best option for a multibillion-dollar casino and entertainment complex because it would be close to existing hotels and restaurants, as well as public transit. His endorsement for a downtown location comes as Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee is set to consider the controversial casino question next week and the lottery corporation prepares to begin formal discussions with potential operators.
"My personal preference today would be somewhere along the Toronto waterfront," he told The Globe and Mail's editorial board. Other sites, he said, would not attract as much interest from international casino operators or the same level of investment.
"You probably wouldn't get the same type of facility. It wouldn't be as iconic," he said "We would have to be satisfied with something less."
Mr. Godfrey would not pinpoint a specific site, but said a soon-to-be released request for interest document likely will identify five or six locations and ask for feedback on them all. "That is going to help us determine the acceptability, the possibility of making it happen," he said.
Talk of a Toronto casino, possibly at Ontario Place, has divided council, with the mayor and many suburban councillors endorsing the idea under the right conditions. Several downtown politicians already have responded with a flat-out "no thanks."
The province has said it will not force any community to take a casino, but it also is clear that a new complex in Toronto would generate more investment and more badly needed revenue for the province. OLG predicts its efforts to update the province's gaming system, including Internet gambling, will increase its contributions to the province by $1.3-billion annually in five years.
The OLG, Mr. Godfrey said Wednesday, has a selling job to do – particularly to the people of Toronto and city councillors. "They should know all the facts before they say yes or no," he said.
But two councillors who have anti-casino motions before the mayor's executive committee on Monday say they have all the information they need already.
Councillor Michael Layton, who represents the ward that includes Ontario Place, wants it removed from the list of possible sites. "A casino is not an economic development mechanism, its a mechanism for taking money," he said. "All the research I've done, it's saying run and hide from these things."
Adam Vaughan, who is asking that no casino be built in the city without a referendum, said if Mr. Godfrey believes he has a case, he should make public OLG's studies and the business case behind the proposed Toronto casino.
"I appreciate that everybody wants an iconic piece of real estate on the waterfront for this and that," he said. "Our job as city councillors is to talk to our communities, our business communities, take a look the planning issues, and make a decision which is a balanced decision – not simply line up behind Paul Godfrey and the OLG."
Councillor Mark Grimes, chair of Exhibition Place, said local politicians should wait to see proposals before taking a stand. "I think we all need to take a step back and see what comes forward," he said.
Mr. Godfrey said talk of increased crime caused by casinos has been "blown way out of proportion," and he disputed claims that a casino would hurt surrounding businesses.
"Competition increases activity and makes it better for everyone," he said.