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Toronto Toronto council to consider expanding Woodbine racetrack

Toronto Mayor John Tory’s inner circle on council is being asked to approve the first steps that could lead to an expansion of gambling at Woodbine racetrack.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto Mayor John Tory's inner circle on council is being asked to approve the first steps that could lead to an expansion of gambling at Woodbine racetrack.

The executive committee will consider next week a request by Councillor Vincent Crisanti, who is also one of three deputy mayors, for city staff input on the possibilities for more gambling options at the facility in the city's northwest. He is also calling for public consultations on the idea.

Mr. Crisanti cast the request in prosperity terms, saying it was a way to preserve jobs at the racetrack and to "achieve further economic success in Etobicoke and in Toronto."

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The city manager would be asked to submit a report in June that would look at a host of issues, from social and city costs to economic impact to the best type of facility for the site.

According to Woodbine Entertainment Group, which operates the facility, OLG Slots opened there in 2000 with 1,700 slot machines and now has about 3,000. One concrete option floated by WEG is expanding the gambling options to include live table games as well.

Mr. Tory is in Texas to see what Toronto could learn from Austin's economy and music scene. A statement from his spokeswoman, Amanda Galbraith, confirmed that he is "willing to have that discussion" if an expanded casino at Woodbine would boost area prosperity.

"The Mayor would like to see a broader kind of entertainment complex in that area than a stand-alone box casino," she wrote. "Expanded gaming at Woodbine racetrack has to be in concert with a much bigger vision that would drive economic development."

Maureen Lynett, a co-founder of the advocacy group No Casino Toronto, which helped fight in recent years against the possibility of a gambling facility in the city's core, said that the Woodbine site avoids some of the problems of a downtown location.

There are fewer issues with parking and congestion at Woodbine, for example, and the neighbourhood has grown up around an existing facility. She was not taking a position on the proposal, though, saying she needed to see more details and voicing confidence in city politicians making a rational choice.

"I think they are well placed," Ms. Lynett said. "It's a sane council now, right, led by a sane mayor, that I think can make the decision."

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The possibility of an expanded casino at the facility was raised in the last term. As part of the debate about a casino downtown, councillors voted down then-mayor Rob Ford's separate motion for expanded gambling at Woodbine. At the same 2013 meeting, council approved Councillor Mike Layton's motion against more gambling at Woodbine.

The idea was floated again this month by WEG, which argued that reliable sources of money must be generated to preserve the facility for horse racing.

"To achieve long-term sustainability of the horse racing industry, WEG must identify solutions that work over the long-term, and provide sustainable revenue streams that will facilitate growth and provide security for our industry," they wrote in a letter appended to Mr. Crisanti's request.

Part of Mr. Crisanti's request uses near-identical language.

"For WEG to achieve long-term sustainability for the horse racing industry, solutions must be identified that are successful over the long-term and provide consistent revenue streams that will facilitate growth, while providing security for the horse racing industry," it read.

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