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Toronto Toronto casino consultation gets strong turnout from No side

“No Casino Toronto” buttons were handed out by Maureen Lynett, Sheila Lynett, and Peggy Calvert during a casino consultation event at Toronto City Hall on Wednesday.

MATTHEW SHERWOOD/The Globe and Mail

A public consultation on a proposed Toronto casino started out as an open-house information session, with staff from many departments milling about flow charts on posters instead of making formal presentations, but a group of councillors had other ideas.

Midway through the open house, Councillor Gord Perks got on a chair and called for attention, apologizing for the format of the meeting and inviting anyone who wanted to discuss the issue upstairs to a committee room. Adam Vaughan then asked for a show of hands indicating support for the casino. About a dozen hands went up (there were more than 200 people in attendance). From the waving arms and calls of "no casino" that greeted councillor Mr. Vaughan's next query, it was clear the no side had a strong majority.

It remains to be seen if that will be the last vote citizens cast on the issue. Provincial laws changed in June, meaning a referendum is no longer necessary before the province approves a casino in any municipality. Feedback forms submitted online and at Wednesday's meeting (and the four others planned until Jan. 19) are how the city will gather public input.

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Inside the impromptu meeting upstairs, architect Ken Greenberg, former director of urban design for Toronto, called on citizens to "Take this on."

"I've had the dubious honour of working in six cities that have wrestled with casinos," said Mr. Greenberg. He called them introverted buildings that "have generated wastelands around them."

Downstairs on the rotunda floor, a group of men from the Carpenters' Union said the casino would be a focal point to boost activity and provide a spillover benefit to its surrounding area. Don Penteluke argued Toronto needed the jobs that would come from a casino-sized investment.

"They are talking 6,000 jobs per year for three years," says Mr. Penteluke, from Port Perry, Ont. "Housing is slowing down. Why would any responsible city turn away a big investment?"

On the other side of the room, 53-year-old Philip Hare from Leslieville offered a few reasons the city should do just that.

"I've been to meetings and heard lots from both sides. I don't believe there will be economic benefits, but I believe there will be high social costs. I'm not a prude, I just know the house always wins."

Online forms and a meeting schedule are available here. A vote at council is expected in April.

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