UPDATE: Kiss your casino goodbye. Toronto Council has voted 40-4 to oppose any new gambling facility in the city. Say hello Casino Markham or Casino Vaughan, smack-dab on Toronto’s doorstep.
I am really torn on the whole issue of putting a mega-casino in downtown Toronto.
But probably not for the same reasons that will come into play when city councillors convene on Tuesday morning to yell at each other and (probably) vote Casino Toronto into oblivion, at least for now.
Sure, it would be nice to have that $80 million a year flowing into city coffers (you don’t really think the $53.7 million figure is hard and fast, do you?) but after a couple of years the casino cash cow would just be taken for granted in the financial planning process and we would be no further ahead. Further behind, actually, if the casino cash flow suddenly stopped flowing so freely. Just ask places like Windsor and Sarnia how that works.
Casinos don’t really enhance a city’s quality of life (unless, of course, you’re already a complete disaster zone like Detroit). But they can be fun and add sizzle — if done properly.
Personally, I find the Niagara casinos boring and more than a little depressing. On the other hand, Las Vegas — which I haven’t been to for years — is a gloriously over-the-top experience, mainly because the experience involves so much more than just the gaming floors of the casinos. Gambling is, of course, the money machine that makes all the rest of it possible. But the card and dice tables and roulette wheels and bookie parlours aren’t the be-all and end-all of what makes Vegas shimmer and glitter through the night.
And that’s the main reason I DON’T want a casino in downtown Toronto. If it was to be just another Casino Niagara, why bother? If that’s the experience you want, just hop a bus for the 90-minute ride down the QEW and keep giving poor old Niagara a bit of income in its decrepitude.
No, the only reason to put a casino in Toronto is because the economics of having a casino in the heart of this city make it possible to go big and bodacious, to amp up the entertainment and excitement levels, to make it a shimmering jewel of naughty-and-nice delights on the shores of Lake Ontario.
I certainly wouldn’t want to see a massive casino complex in the downtown core where the convention centre is located. That would just be crazy, infrastructure-clogging overload. But I’ve always felt the Ontario Place/Exhibition Place site — close but not too close — would be ideal for a casino. Again — IF it was done well, IF it were to become a complete entertainment destination, not just a place to pour your poker chips down the drain.
(I know, I know — Ontario Place has been ruled out as the casino site because it’s not a big enough footprint, but if the main casino complex was located at Exhibition Place, then Ontario Place would be rejuvenated as part of the whole waterfront entertainment “golden mile.” That’s why I lump Ontario Place and Exhibition Place together in this.)
From what I’ve seen, the Exhibition Place proposal seems to have a really juiced-up entertainment component. I would dearly love to see the Ex and old Ontario Place dancing again, with a dozen or more show venues operating year-round and more or less around the clock. Can you imagine what a wonderful thing it would be for Toronto musicians and performers to have an extra 4,000 or 5,000 well-paying gigs available every year right here at home? And a permanent Cirque du Soleil show? Whew.
Like everything else, it’s location, location, location. I think Exhibition Place/Ontario Place is exactly the right location, a location with the possibility of real glitz and glamour, not just an industrial money-farming operation stuck off in the hinterland.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to end up with if/when Toronto council rejects a casino within city limits. There WILL be a casino within the GTA, probably just on the north side of Steeles Avenue. And the City of Toronto will be stuck paying for all the services and infrastructure required to deal with the increased traffic and development up there — without any of the income from having the casino right in the city. And no Cirque du Soleil.
It’s a no-win situation for Toronto.
It is, however, a win-win situation for Kathleen Wynne, who engineered the probability of casino rejection in Toronto by making sure the share of revenue offered to the city was below the level that would have bought council approval (closer to Ford’s $100 million than to Wynne’s $53.7 million).
Why is Wynne so dead-set against a casino in Toronto? Because, as leader of the beleaguered Liberal Party of Ontario, it would hurt, not help her party’s (slimmish but still possible) chances of forming the government after the next election.
What might make sense from a business point of view doesn’t make sense from a Liberal electioneering point of view. Why do something that would improve the province’s bottom line if you’re just handing that new revenue flow over to a Tory government?
A lot of Toronto Liberals don’t want a casino here to begin with, and any move by her to make one possible would probably not add a single seat to what the Liberals win in the City of Toronto next time out.
A big, booming casino in the heart of Toronto would, however, pretty much kill all those little slots operations keeping race tracks across Ontario in business. A not-so-big, not-so-beautiful casino just outside Toronto would a) not make nearly as much money as a downtown casino, b) thus leaving a sliver of hope for the survival of the rural/semi-rural slots operations and c) not be nearly as high-profile or paint Wynne as the enabler of the destruction of Ontario’s dying-but-not-yet-dead horse racing industry.
Don’t forget: Wynne made herself minister of agriculture as well as premier. Her entire election strategy is based on hanging on to Liberal seats in the cities while winning back all those rural ridings the Liberals lost to the Progressive Conservatives in the last election. By not facilitating a downtown Toronto casino, Wynne doesn’t do herself any harm in Toronto while doing herself quite a bit of good in all those rural constituencies she needs to win back in south-western Ontario. Same thing applies to the municipalities hosting the flock of smaller casinos around southern Ontario.
Like I said, I’m torn on the Casino Toronto issue. There is going to be a huge new casino somewhere in the GTA no matter what. That’s a given. So we don’t get to push all the associated problems of casino culture away from us. We’ll have to deal with the problems no matter what.
By keeping the casino out of the City of Toronto, all we’re doing is taking a pass on the benefits that would accrue from a mega-casino development on the city waterfront.
And that, I’m certain, is what is going to happen. Exhibition Place and Ontario Place will continue to sit fallow until everyone who killed a casino there becomes desperate enough to approve some less ambitious, less exciting, less profitable, less beneficial redevelopment scheme. More condos? Please, no. We already have enough future slums down in that area.
In the end, I guess I’m not torn. I’m in favour of a waterfront Casino Toronto. I just know it’s not going to happen.