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Casino in Toronto? More Sound than Fury Till the New Year

November 20th, 2012 · No Comments

Debate visits City Hall

By Josh Zeliger

Whether a casino is in the cards for downtown Toronto will be up in the air until next year, but that hasn’t deterred developers from posturing for public approval and pandering to City Councilors.

In the first concrete plan for a casino complex downtown, Oxford Properties Group recently unveiled a $3.1 billion proposal, covering 11 acres of land around the CN Tower.

The complex includes a large urban park, luxury hotel, three-floor shopping mall, 4,000 parking spaces, two sizable office towers, and a new convention centre all designed by renowned architectural firm, Foster + Partners.

Beyond the glitz and glam, Oxford is also promising the complex will be a boon to provincial government and City coffers. They say the property tax revenue from the casino and office towers will net $50 million annually. And Oxford, which is owned by OMERS, a massive pooled pension fund of civil servants in Ontario, isn’t done there; they are also promising to build a new convention centre, funded entirely with private money.

However, the deal hinges on whether City Council will rezone the area to allow for gambling. And many in City Hall are skeptical Torontonians want a casino. In 1997, when the city held a referendum on the issue, 72 per cent of citizens opposed opening a gambling establishment.

“Torontonians overwhelmingly voted against a casino and all recent polls have backed that up. So why would we go against the will of the people of Toronto?” said Mike Layton, City Councillor for ward 19, in a phone interview.

During an evening Toronto and East York Community Council committee meeting on Oct. 10 to discuss rezoning parts of the downtown to allow for a gambling establishment, citizens largely opposed the casino – with the only supporters being lobbyists and unions primed to benefit from a development.

“This can be an iconic, game changing development creating 6,000 construction jobs, thousands of stable jobs and millions of tourist dollars,” said William Rutsey, the CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association — a member organization including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) —  during the committee.“Casino gaming will only be about 10 per cent of the product,” he said.

Layton said he worries local businesses and families will lose out if City Council votes to rezone.

“A casino isn’t an economic development strategy for a community. Local businesses on Queen, College, Dundas and Bloor Streets will be hurt by it when people spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere,” he said.

Layton said he also fears the social impact for citizens who have gambling problems.

He said the big winners will be The House and the Provincial Government.

“The Province sees this as a silver bullet for their financial hardships,” said Layton.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan projects that by opening a new casino and shutting down other facilities (presumably the slots at Woodbine Racetrack); the province could recoup $1.3 billion.

The debate over whether a casino will be coming to town began in March, when the OLG announced it would open a new casino in the GTA. OLG President Paul Godfrey promised to create thousands of jobs and $3 billion of private investment – as Oxford has shown.

Godfrey also said a casino would not open in a municipality that does not want one, giving City Council the deciding vote.

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