Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Council Scorecard Projection: Downtown casino now a dead issue walking

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Apr 17 2013

The downtown Toronto casino is not happening. The debate is done. It's really, really done. There are so many gambling clichés that I could use to describe the situation. The downtown casino has gone bust, I might say. Or that it's crapped out. It's rolled snake eyes. Having previously known exactly when to hold 'em, it is now clear that it is time for this debate to fold 'em.

At this point, only the most hopeless of gamblers would dare put money on the faint hope that a majority of Toronto City Council will vote in favour of the idea next month.

Sure, it might seem odd to write this less than 24 hours removed from a meeting of Mayor Rob Ford's executive during which a majority of committee members gave the gambling venue a green light. But that vote actually hurt the pro-casino cause more than it helped, with four members of the committee coming out against the casino. It's rare for members of the executive to vote against the mayor, especially on big ticket issues like this. They all, to various degrees, support the Ford agenda, and all were appointed to the committee by the mayor himself. They're supposed to be solid votes.

But four of those theoretically solid votes now seem lost. With executive members Coun. Paul Ainslie, Coun. Jaye Robinson, Coun. Peter Milczyn and Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong appearing to be firmly in the “no” camp, there's no real path to victory for the mayor at council.

It's the numbers that decided it, more than anything else. Even if you — like me — never fully bought into heavy-handed arguments about casinos being breeding grounds for criminals, urban blight and the sinister schemes of Cyril Sneer, we're a year into this debate and still don't have so much as a solid estimate on what the city could expect as a hosting fee. It's not that the casino numbers don't add up — it's that the numbers don't even exist.

Why any councillor would vote in favour of such a vague, ill-defined plan is still a mystery. The responsible move for the pro-casino contingent would have been to defer the matter until OLG finally got around to coughing up details on hosting fees.

From here, Ford's main pitch to undecided councillors will likely be that a “yes” vote next month doesn't necessarily mean that a downtown casino is a done deal. Instead, the city report suggests councillors will get another chance to decide on a final position once formal proposals come in. But that puts the city in a weak position, and would only mean another year — at least — of intense lobbying and distracting arguments. Frankly, there are more substantive things for elected officials to spend their time on.

This post was originally published at on 2013-04-17T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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