Torontonians will have their say on a casino, but they won't know exactly how much money is in it for the city when they do.
Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee gave the green light Monday to formal consultations on whether to embrace a new gambling palace – before the province and the city reach a crucial revenue-sharing agreement.
In a preview of the upcoming public temperature-taking, dozens of people appeared before the executive committee, many of whom assailed the eye-popping estimates of Toronto's winnings if city council said yes.
"None of the numbers are real," Councillor Adam Vaughan, a vocal casino opponent, said. "The visitor numbers are a fantasy, the [estimated] cut we're going to get from the province is just lunacy."
At the heart of the issue is how much money Toronto would receive annually in hosting fees – essentially the city's share of gaming revenue – from a new casino.
The city manager released a report last week that estimated the municipal government could rake in anywhere from $18-million to $106-million to $168-million in hosting fees, depending on what kind of casino is built, where it is located and, most important, what kind of deal the province's Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is willing to cut the city.
Last year the nearly 3,000 slots at Woodbine sent $15.5-million to the city.
The $18-million figure for a destination downtown casino is based on a new OLG revenue-sharing model that is scheduled to take effect next year; the others are city estimates that assume OLG so covets a downtown Toronto casino it would agree to one of two unprecedented revenue-sharing models to win city council's support.
"These other models seem to be plucked from the air," Councillor Janet Davis, another casino opponent said.
City Manager Joe Pennachetti defended the estimates in his report, adding he hopes to have a refined range by the end of the month.
"I think I'll be able to narrow it down, the problem I have is how soon," he said.
A downtown Toronto location would be uniquely lucrative, he said, something OLG has already acknowledged.
The high-end hosting fee estimate, based in part on research by consultants Ernst & Young, would be on top of new property-tax revenue and land-lease or sale revenue if the casino is located on city-owned land.
After being grilled by the committee, OLG president Rod Phillips said the lottery corporation intends to have an agreement in principle in place before council votes on the issue in February or March.
But the details and dollar figures would not be settled in time for the public consultations, he conceded. That would be "premature," Mr. Phillips said.
"I think this is a start, with what Ernst & Young has produced, to having that conversation. Obviously we can't come up with a deal before the city decides the city's interested in having a deal. That's the conversation that's happening [Monday]," he said.
The other issue that dominated Monday's daylong debate was the future of Woodbine, whose Etobicoke racetrack is already in peril because the OLG is ending revenue-sharing between the slots and horse-racing operations next spring.
The opening of another casino in Toronto would put further pressure on Woodbine.
"With more competition will come a negative impact on our business," said Nick Eaves, president and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group. "How significant it is remains to be seen. It's why I keep circling back to the bigger issue for us is making sure gaming continues at our site. Because there's a chance that it won't."
The casino consultations likely will not begin until the new year, Mr. Pennachetti said.
The consultations will include extensive online surveys, at least one public meeting in each community council zone, and the option for ward-by-ward meetings if councillors wish.