Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto casino arguments go bust

By: Metro Canada Published on Thu Oct 11 2012

If the gaggle of lobbyists representing various gaming interests at City Hall really want to sell Toronto on the idea of a downtown casino, they should start by telling us the odds.

What are the odds that a casino complex actually improves the economic climate in a city over the long term? What are the odds that a casino produces a net increase in the number of jobs? What are the odds that a casino will cause an increase in social problems that will impact our social services budget?

And can a municipality like Toronto really strike it rich after building a casino? What do the odds say about that?

Despite this casino argument dragging on for months, I haven't seen these questions answered. Instead, the gaming industry, echoed by Mayor Rob Ford and assorted hangers-on, likes to throw around vague numbers. A casino resort would create thousands of jobs, they say, and inject billions into the local economy.

But there have got to be enough case studies out there now to make for a more detailed business case. If casino resorts have such profound impacts on local economies, the industry should be able to point to hard data and success stories. Show us the municipalities that are much better off since blackjack and craps came to town.

I'm not convinced they can. A look at the casino operations in Niagara Falls and Windsor shows that both facilities have had a negligible impact on the operating budgets of both municipalities, with gaming revenue contributing only tiny amounts to their coffers. The Ontario government has benefited, sure, but municipalities seem to get the raw end of the deal.

Maybe the vision for Toronto is different. Maybe there are ways Toronto can use a casino to drive more direct municipal revenue and put the money toward infrastructure and services. But if that's the idea, then someone needs to explicitly make that strategy clear. We need some real numbers.

That said, I don't really buy a lot of the arguments made against a casino at last night's meeting of the Toronto & East York Community Council, either. I agree that gambling addiction is a serious problem that constantly needs to be addressed, but governments at all levels have been in the gambling business for years. They make money off lottery tickets, off-track betting facilities, slot machines and whatever else. A Toronto casino isn't going to push our society past a point of no return.

But even if you set aside all the social and emotional arguments on the con side, it's still not clear that there's a good long-term financial argument to be made in favour of Casino Toronto. And that's where the onus lies. The gaming industry and their phalanx of lobbyists isn't going to lure this city with vague numbers and promises of glitz and glamour. They need to convince Toronto that this is a game worth playing.

So, again: Tell us the odds.

This post was originally published at on 2012-10-11T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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