The definitive guide to the supporters and opponents of a Toronto casino
After more than a year of debate, Toronto’s still-hypothetical casino will soon face a crucial test. A long-awaited city staff report is in (though, unusually, it’s missing a firm yay-or-nay recommendation), and council could vote as early as next month to either kill the idea forever or invite bids from casino developers. For influential Torontonians hoping to sway the decision, now’s the last chance to come out for or against a downtown gambling den—which explains why so many have spoken up in recent days. Below, a guide to how the pro-casino and anti-casino teams stack up.
• The mayor
Rob Ford has been touting the potential benefits of a casino for months, but went even further on Monday with an open letter and imploring his “friends” to see the prospect as “a golden opportunity.”
• The province—mostly
OLG chair Paul Godfrey has been the province’s most steadfast public supporter of a casino (though he has occasionally hurt his own cause), while former finance minister Dwight Duncan has visions of a “golden mile” on the waterfront. But premier Kathleen Wynne’s refusal to fork over higher hosting fees for Toronto than other cities could put a damper on council support.
• Would-be casino operators
Obviously, the companies already honing their plans for billion-dollar complexes are in favour, and have reached for high-pressure tactics like lobbyists, deadlines and premature job fairs.
• Some downtown restaurant owners
A group of restaurateurs—including Oliver and Bonacini—sent open letters to council supporting a casino at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. They’re mainly interested in the international tourists that an upgraded convention centre would bring to the city. Celeb chef and restaurateur Mark McEwan, who would helm the restaurant in MGM’s proposal, is also adamantly pro-casino.
• At least one real estate developer
Steve Gupta is the sole real estate executive to come out strongly in favour of the idea. He told the Globe and Mail that a downtown casino would increase real estate values in the area, adding that he believes Toronto could use another year-round tourist attraction (we guess he’s not that into aquariums).
• Several private-sector unions
Some of the unions who would potentially represent the thousands of workers at casino have tentatively endorsed the proposal, including The Canadian Auto Workers union, the Service Employees International Union, and Unite Here Local 75, a hotel and hospitality workers union that has been formally lobbying councillors since last year.
• A lot more councillors
Adam Vaughan and Mike Layton have been council’s most vocal opponents to a gambling den, and 19 of their colleagues have also promised to vote against the idea, including most of the left-leaning councillors, as well as Karen Stintz, John Parker, Josh Matlow and executive committee member Denzil Minnan-Wong. The group only needs two more votes to win the vote—which the Toronto Star claims they almost certainly have.
• Three former mayors
David Crombie, John Sewell and Art Eggleton penned an open letter warning that the promises of casino developers are too good to be true. They point to the high cost of infrastructure, regulatory expenses, additional policing and larger social welfare expenditures.
• Four major real estate magnates
Edward Sonshine, Michael Emory and Stephen Diamond, who head RioCan, Allied Properties and Diamond Corp., respectively, banded together on their own letter, which argued a casino in the heart of the city would only create headaches and “jeopardiz[e] the success of our downtown”—as well as the success of their proposed development near the convention centre. This week, First Capital Realty CEO Dori Segal, a major Liberty Village landlord, also denounced the proposal.
• An urban think-tank
The Martin Prosperity Institute released a report in March that found “that a casino makes little—if any sense—for the GTA” and called the numbers disseminated by casino champions “meaningless” and “misleading.” Celebrity urbanist Richard Florida, the institute’s director, also took to the editorial pages of the Star to ask, “what did the good city of Toronto do to deserve such a costly, socially destructive boondoggle?”
• Religious leaders
A coalition of religious officials joined together last week to put out a strong statement against the casino proposal.
• The CNE
The Ex’s board opposes a permanent casino at Exhibition Place, which they say would likely put an end to the annual fair. Association president Brian Ashton also sent a cease-and-desist letter to MGM Resorts in March, telling them to stop using the CNE’s name and image in promo materials.
• A grassroots group
No Casino Toronto’s name sums up its message, which the community group disseminates through social media and by handing out lawn signs, canvassing neighbourhoods, distributing petitions and screenings of movies like Owning Mahowny.
• Two public-sector unions
After polling their members, CUPE Local 79 and 416, the unions representing the City of Toronto’s inside and outside workers, both officially oppose a casino due to the potential negative social impacts.