Is it too early to declare Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation chair Paul Godfrey's casino resort plot for Toronto's waterfront dead, finished, kaput?
City staff's report on the pros and cons, whys and wherefores of that project isn't due for five months, but a confluence of events in recent days is spelling curtains for the casino.
The five signs of the apocalypse where a casino is concerned:
1. Godfrey seems to be setting his sights eastward, pumping a casino in, of all places, Ottawa. He was in the capital last week talking up the plan with a captive audience of biz leaders and city councillors.
2. The port lands is out of the running. Arguably, it was never a viable option, but it's even less so now that Waterfront Toronto's development plans for the eastern waterfront won't be put on that fast track the brothers Ford were betting on.
But more to the point, the port lands is all infill, so parking at a casino resort would have to be above ground. Using casinos' one-parking-space-per-slot-machine ratio - OLG is contemplating 5,000 slots - that's too much valuable real estate to consign to cars. And that's not even counting spaces for retail or a possible hotel.
3. There are jobs to save in the mayor's backyard in Etobicoke. Putting a casino anywhere in Toronto would effectively kill the slots at Woodbine, which the racetrack relies on heavily for revenues.
Slots are subsidizing a struggling horse racing industry that provides jobs for Ontarians (it's the second-largest agriculture-related sector in the province), some of them living in Etobicoke.
4. Ontario Place is not an option. John Tory, who heads up a group looking at future uses for the amusement park, is pretty unequivocal on the subject of a casino, despite continuing speculation in the press that the province sees it as a possible site.
Tory's words to me: "I was from the outset lukewarm about more casinos generally and also about a casino at Ontario Place. I have not received a card, letter, email, smoke signal or any other message whatsoever from anyone in the government trying to make a case for or otherwise advocate a casino. They have left us to do our work." In other words: not going to happen.
As for the Ex, lobbying firm GCI has joined the ranks making tracks to City Hall on the casino file, recently registering to represent the interests of Caesars Entertainment Corporation.
The mayor has his designate, Etobicoke councillor Mark Grimes, chairing the board of governors of the CNE. But downtown councillors are strenuously opposed, and they seem to have council's votes on their side.
Also, the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, which has also registered to lobby, isn't exactly diving into the casino business with both feet. It's taking a wait-and-see approach. But if I had to read between the lines of GTHA head Terry Mundell's comments to me, I'd say he's leaning toward skeptical on the yes-no meter where a casino is concerned.
5. Lastly, and also important to consider, is that Strategic Communications poll last week showing public support for a casino tilting almost two to one against when people are asked if they'd accept one in their backyard. Shelley Carroll was right. Siting this thing is going to be harder than finding a location for an incinerator.
The big players from Vegas say they don't want anything to do with it, but Woodbine could still emerge as a compromise. It's relatively isolated, at the nexus of Highway 27 and Rexdale Boulevard; there are some 650 acres of wide-open, undeveloped land; and slots and a racetrack are already there. The stalled Woodbine Live plan might provide further impetus.
But there, again, council would more than likely balk, reasoning that what's bad for the waterfront is bad for the people of Rexdale, too.
And, all that being said, the timing is all wrong. OLG is looking to sign a deal with someone, anyone, by the fall - it issued its RFI, or request for information, two weeks ago - and council is unlikely to make a decision until October at the earliest.
For a number of reasons, the provincial Libs aren't as keen on casinos as some think. Never have been. For starters, it ain't gonna win them any votes, either in Toronto or in rural areas that rely on gambling revenues and would be decimated by a honkin' resort sucking up an already saturated gambling market. Then there's the fact that this whole plan to "modernize" gaming is Godfrey's idea. The Grits have been playing Mutt and Jeff on the file, bluffing all along.
Online gambling is where the big cash is, and that's the market the Libs really want to exploit. It's where the big players like MGM are heading.
The Libs would be happy to sell off some gambling assets they have now. It's right there in black-and-white in OLG's RFI. The Libs also quietly passed a regulation requiring municipalities to consult with residents. That markedly reduces the odds of anyone's agreeing to take a casino. A fairness commissioner is being appointed to oversee pitches that come OLG's way after it releases its request for proposals, expected sometime in the next few days.
The more the casino wheeling and dealing plays out, the clearer it's becoming that Godfrey's rolling snake eyes on this one.