Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Can we stop talking about a downtown Toronto casino yet?

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Wed Feb 13 2013

I'm not normally a betting man, but I'm willing to put some money down on this. Despite months and months of intense lobbying and continued enthusiasm for the idea from Mayor Rob Ford, I predict that Toronto City Council will not vote to move forward with plans for a casino resort in downtown Toronto.

Unless we see a major change in attitude from councillors, the casino dream is dead. There's very little chance we'll see glitzy Las Vegas lights on any of the proposed downtown sites — not in the Port Lands, not at the Exhibition, and not on the site of the Toronto Convention Centre.

Without Parker's support, the odds of Ford getting his way on a casino vote are slim. The odds get even slimmer when you consider that Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, another Ford-allied conservative, has been mostly consistent in his opposition to a Toronto casino, saying that the social problems they bring outweigh any benefits.

Throw in the fact that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has also been sounding negative on the idea of downtown gambling, and the narrative starts to take shape.

A lot of other councillors say they're still on the fence, but that may not matter. Based on survey data collected by the Toronto Star and some helpful email analysis from James Christidis, a current vote projection finds a near-majority of 20 councillors either outright opposed to the idea of a downtown casino or leaning that way. Only six members of council, including the mayor, are fully in favour.

For council to ultimately vote in favour of a downtown casino, 17 of the 19 councillors listed as undecided would have to come out in favour. On the other side, the anti-casino councillors — whose ranks, I should note, include virtually every politician who represents a downtown ward — need only three votes from the fence-sitters. It doesn't take an oddsmaker to tell you which is the favourite to win.

This analysis is good news for those who have opposed casinos since this process began. But reasons to celebrate start to evaporate when you consider just how much time and public money has been wasted on this idea.

Despite going to bat hard for casinos — he once introduced the topic on his radio show by making “ka-ching” sound effects — Ford's office provided little in the way of leadership on the casino question.

The mayor talked about how casinos would bring in revenues for the city, but couldn't use the weight of his office to get the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to cough up actual hard numbers. Instead, we got shiny photos and renderings and the promise of Cirque du Soleil. Never was the downtown casino idea placed into the context of larger financial or development plans for the city.

Ford's work on this file reminds me a lot of the subways-versus-LRT debacle last year. Then, like now, Ford tried to get council to back a bundle of vague notions that he called a “plan.” It turns out councillors aren't big fans of that. Go figure.

Of course, despite the seemingly inevitable vote result, the casino debate isn't done. We've got several more weeks of lobbying and consultation time before a report on the subject comes before council again.

Expect a continued big push, especially from organized labour groups and the gaggle of lobbyists taking up residence at City Hall. And there's still some hope for a casino project at Woodbine, where they recently lost a major development with the death of the Ford-championed Woodbine Live! project. Council and public opposition to adding some card tables to the existing gambling venue in Rexdale is nowhere near as strong.

But as far as the downtown casino is concerned, the chips are stacked against. The council vote that ends all this cannot come soon enough.

Based on data collected through a councillor survey by the Toronto Star and other public statements made by members of Toronto City Council. Projection is preliminary and tentative — everything could change.

This post was originally published at on 2013-02-13T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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