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Special meeting for Toronto casino debate scheduled for May 21

Toronto City Mayor Rob Ford greets the crowd before speaking in front of unionized workers prior to chairing the executive committee hearing at Toronto City Hall as they debate the proposed Casino for city on Monday April 15 , 2013.

chris young The Globe and Mail

Mayor Rob Ford is setting aside a day for council to debate the casino question, calling a special meeting of Toronto city council May 21, a move that will delay the controversial vote for another two weeks.

Mr. Ford said the special meeting is required to give council enough time to debate whether Toronto wants a new downtown casino and an expanded facility at Woodbine Racetrack. A report on casinos by the city manager was set to be on the agenda of next week's regular council meeting until the special meeting was announced Wednesday.

"I said we were going to have a full day of debate and there's no surprise," Mr. Ford said Wednesday. "I want to have a good debate and obviously we can't do it on a council day because there are too many items on the agenda."

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Next week's regular meeting is expected to include a move by a majority of councillors to discuss new sources of revenue for funding transit as well as plans to expand the island airport.

Even with the delay, the odds of a downtown casino gaining the approval of city council are slim, with a growing list of councillors saying they cannot support plans for a gambling facility at Exhibition Place or the Metro Convention Centre. Opponents of the gambling site say Toronto residents deserve an answer one way or the other as soon as possible.

"I think the people of Toronto want to put this item to rest," said Councillor Mike Layton, a critic of the casino plan. "It's time we voted on this item. I think there is a clear direction that council will take. Toronto is not going to get a special deal so what are we holding out for?"

Councillor Gord Perks raised questions about the Mayor's tactics. "We could be getting into uncharted territory if the Mayor tries to use his powers to duck this issue the way he's been using his powers to duck every other issue for a while," he said. "Frankly, Torontonians are ready to decide."

The Mayor refused to respond to accusations that he is delaying the debate to duck defeat. "Not even worth commenting on," he said.

Mr. Ford, who favours a casino for the extra income it would bring to the city, said he is "very optimistic" about his chances of winning the vote.

He brother, Councillor Doug Ford, also said Wednesday that there is time to swing votes to support a downtown casino. "We will see what happens in the next couple of weeks. People change their minds down here on a daily basis," he said.

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The Mayor's executive committee voted two weeks ago to support a downtown casino and the expansion of existing gambling facilities at Woodbine Racetrack, recommending that council say yes, provided more than 40 conditions are met.

One of the conditions is that the city receive at least $100-million in hosting fees, but the exact amount the provincial lottery agency will give the city remains uncertain. Premier Kathleen Wynne asked officials at Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to rework their formula so that all municipalities are treated the same, after Globe and Mail stories revealed Toronto was in line for special treatment.

Mr. Ford said he expects to be "getting some information shortly," but has not seen a revised formula yet.

The OLG has indicated its review is complete and the formula is now with the provincial government.

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