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Toronto Table gambling, additional slots at Woodbine one step closer to reality

Visitors are reminded that they can bet online as they leave Woodbine, June 3, 2012.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

An expanded casino at Woodbine Racetrack moved one step closer to reality after sailing through Mayor John Tory's inner circle.

The executive committee, a cabinet-like body of Toronto councillors, approved a proposal to allow table gambling and up to 2,000 more slot machines at the facility. The expansion must still pass full council next week, where social costs will again be weighed against economic gains.

Mr. Tory has consistently said he is open to an expanded casino in the city's northwest corner only if it comes in the context of a broader entertainment complex.

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"I am interested in ‎this because of jobs and because of what the gambling can do to serve as a catalyst to attract additional investment," he said Tuesday. "My principal motivation for this is attracting jobs to a part of the city that desperately needs them."

A staff report recommended council support for an expanded facility at Woodbine, noting that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation had estimated that ‎the city's annual revenues could climb from $15.5-million to between $22.5-million and $26.5-million.

The expansion would allow for the introduction of table gambling, with up to 300 eight-seat live dealer tables, and a rise to a maximum of 5,000 slots‎, more than double the number now at Woodbine.

Mr. Tory's support for expansion was echoed by his executive, ‎but came after sharp questions about gambling addiction, other options for Woodbine and whether any hotels, retail or other corollary development could be guaranteed.

After a marathon meeting, the proposal was eventually passed late Tuesday by a 10-3 majority. It is expected to get a rougher ride when it lands before the full council.

Downtown councillor Joe Cressy, who is not on the executive committee, would not predict how the next round of the debate will go. But he urged his fellow councillors not to buy into what he characterized as a dying industry that makes a disproportionate amount of its money off problem gamblers.

"There are serious issues, social and health, associated with casinos," he said. "Why would we bring in a form of economic growth that preys on those who are at their weakest point."

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That argument is likely to be a foreshadow of the coming debate, where worries about the social costs will again be pitted against those who say that the economically depressed Rexdale area needs the jobs.

Local councillor Vincent Crisanti said Tuesday that his ward was strongly in favour of expansion.

"The electronic casino at Woodbine has been operating without incident‎ since 2000," he said, acknowledging later that he couldn't be sure some gamblers hadn't got in over their heads.

"The [Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation] will continue to invest in the responsible gaming initiatives that will mitigate those concerns."

Mr. Crisanti predicted the push to expand Woodbine would pass full council, noting that it came close a few years ago, when it was connected to a highly controversial ‎proposal to put a casino downtown.

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