Archive for March 12th, 2012

I’m Betting Ontario Place Becomes Casino Toronto

- March 12th, 2012

 

Well, of course it will.

 

No, I don’t have any insider information, but I don’t need any to see the obvious.

 

The McGuinty Liberals were always going to stick a big, splashy, money-gobbling casino in the middle of Canada’s biggest city. It was just a matter of when.

 

When is now — soonish, anyway. Why is because, as Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said, “This new revenue will help us balance the budget.”

 

A pipe dream, of course, but desperate people do desperate things.

 

McGuinty held off approving the Toronto casino until now for a number of reasons:

 

1. It’s wrong. I don’t mean that in any moralistic way (although I find the gaming halls of the few Ontario casinos I’ve visited to be pretty pathetic places). No, wrong in the sense that casinos bring out the worst in people (often bad stuff those people didn’t even know they had inside them until the casino came to town) — and it becomes a fairly expensive proposition trying to pick up the pieces of broken people and put them back together again. Because this is supposed to be a money-making proposition for the McGuinty Grits, I think you can be fairly sure they will only invest a token amount of their new revenue stream to deal with the blowback. McGuinty knows it’s wrong — which is why he held off for so long — but he’s going to do it now because he’s totally screwed up the province’s finances and  it’s one of the few ways he can recycle more money from the real economy into provincial treasury coffers.

 

2. When Americans were coming to the border casinos, McGuinty could afford to leave the rich Toronto market untapped. Sort of the way the NHL is keeping the second Toronto hockey franchise in reserve for a rainy day. Torontonians could drive or bus it to Niagara, Rama, Brantford or Great Blue Heron in the meantime. But (since they now need a passport to cross the border) Americans aren’t coming to Niagara, Windsor, the Soo and the other Ontario casinos anymore — at least not in the numbers they used to. I think it’s very safe to say we’re going to see massive downsizing at the Windsor and Soo casinos soon — and probably at Niagara too, once Casino Toronto opens.

 

3. The logical place to put a Toronto casino has always been Ontario Place. Study after study has said that. But McGuinty — Premier Dad, the Education Premier, the (progressive) Family Values Premier — just couldn’t bring himself to mix the sleaze and purported debauchery of a casino with the kid-friendly, wholesome atmosphere Ontario Place tried so hard to maintain. Now that Ontario Place has been put out of its misery, the conflict (in McGuinty’s mind) no longer exists.

 

The only real question is a chicken-and-egg one: Which came first — the decision to open Casino Toronto or the decision to shutter Ontario Place?

 

I’m sure everyone inside the Ontario government will say the decision to board up Ontario Place was completely unrelated to the looming need to tap into the rich gambling motherlode of Toronto. But I think anyone with half a brain cell can figure out that the two decisions were not unrelated. If they weren’t, it would just be one more example of McGuinty’s fiscal ineptitude in managing the public resources of this province.

 

I know I’m acting like the Ontario Place location is a fait accompli. That’s because it is. In keeping with the spirit of the transaction, I will consider giving (hypothetically, of course) two-to-one odds to anyone who puts up $1 million — cash — to back the proposition that Casino Toronto lands anywhere else in the GTA other than Ontario Place. You pick your specific location, I pick Ontario Place and we’ll see who’s right. But first come up with the (hypothetical) cash.

 

Woodbine? The Jockey Club’s been pushing that idea for years but it’s not going to happen. Why? Because the Ontario government doesn’t own Woodbine — it owns Ontario Place. Operation of the casino will be placed in private hands; the government doesn’t want to share the bounty with a third party — a landlord — as well.

 

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has already indicated it wants to put more slot machines in locations other than racetracks. I think it’s safe to say that hard times are going to just keep getting harder for Ontario’s horseracing venues as more-convenient competition is allowed to siphon off their clientele.

 

Now I’m not completely against opening a casino in the middle of Toronto — if it’s done right.

 

For years, the big fear was that the Mafia would get its foot in the door and take over. That’s still a real possibility but the segment of organized nefarity that is listed on stock exchanges in New York and Toronto is now such a big player in Vegas and other gambling locales across North America that corporate gangsters with MBAs will almost certainly be fixing the odds instead of their Mafia brethren.

 

Ontario Place actually could be a giant, swirling, kaleidoscopic, don’t-stop-the-music party place for adults — if it’s done right.

 

I just don’t think the present Ontario government has the guts and vision and panache to do it right. They’ll do it half-assed and it will be just as ho-hum as the current Ontario casino experience.

 

If the Grits had the roulette balls to make Casino Toronto a real adult adventureland (and I don’t mean “adventure” in the sense of “Hey, what happened to my wallet?”), it might be worth it.

 

Think Vegas North, where good food and drink are affordable if not downright cheap, where you can get tickets to good shows without knowing the premier’s chauffeur, where the customer doesn’t always feel like he’s being ripped off by a hypocritical preacher in the bingo hall, where pleasure is a smoothly realized group objective, not an occasional, unintended byproduct of the money-gathering process.

 

I want to see Donnie and Marie booked for a 36-week stand. I want to see Liza’s name dancing in lights on Lake Ontario. I want Buddy Guy to be delivered to his nightly gig by water taxi (even in the middle of winter). I want to see a permanent — no, two permanent — Toronto Cirque du Soleil troupes. (Can you imagine the fantastic use Cirque would make of all that space in the geodesic dome?)

 

I want to see a bunch of independent, funky bars filling every nook and cranny and terrace of Ontario Place. And I want all those bars to have a constant, revolving flow of bands — some new, some established, some house bands — like the ones that used to make Yonge Street so much fun and employed so many Toronto musicians.

 

I want them to restart all the games and rides and waterpark slides (ice slides in winter — right out onto the harbour at 3 a.m.) — but for adults, not kids. I want them to add a ferris wheel standing in the middle of one of the lagoons. I want the shlock and the shock. I want the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. I want the whole crazy tamale, baby.

 

And part of that whole, gaudy Carnival experience is the gaming halls with their slot machines and poker tables and roulette wheels and tumbling dice. But only part. Like a well-mixed drink — not too much liquor, not too much lime, just a wonderful euphoric blend of ingredients, some good, some bad, some naughty, some nice.

 

If the McGuinty Liberals could pull that off, I’d back Casino Toronto. But they can’t. They are, after all, the McGuinty Liberals. So they’ll do it half-assed and the very small thrill they do manage to create (at great expense and not on time) will very quickly fade into just another money-grubbing disappointment.

 

So you, Premier McGuinty, can keep your Casino Toronto and your Ontario Place. And I’ll keep my money.