After months of furious lobbying by the gaming industry and a major grassroots anti-casino campaign, the vote was almost anticlimactic Tuesday, May 21, when council finally slammed the door shut on a downtown gambling palace.
Spectators filled the chamber to the brim to watch the special council meeting, but there was little drama on display as the debate limped toward its foregone conclusion. Hardcore casino foes Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan didn't even bother delivering speeches, hoping to make short work of killing the proposal, which fell by a 40-to-4 count, the scandal-plagued mayor and three other councillors dissenting.
Council also rejected a more modest proposal to expand gaming operations at Woodbine Racetrack, by a count of 24 to 20.
After the meeting, a beaming Councillor Mike Layton credited residents and community group No Casino Toronto with orchestrating the plan's defeat. The fact is, he said, residents "didn't want a casino, and that came across loud and clear. I think that's why you see that 40-to-4 vote at the end of the day, with council sending a strong no to the province. We don't want casino expansion in the city of Toronto."
Peggy Calvert, one of three women who organized No Casino Toronto, said she was "euphoric" after council's decision. "We worked for a long, long time, with fingers crossed," she said. "We didn't win - Toronto won."
Council's rejection of a new casino puts an end to one of the most contentious and long-running debates at City Hall this term.
It began last March when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation announced plans for a new development in the GTA. Despite the initial backing of the mayor and intense lobbying by casino companies and hospitality workers unions, support on council faded as the decisive vote approached.
The idea was already on life support last week, with most councillors leaning against approval, when Ford called a surprise press conference on Thursday to declare the bid "dead."
He blamed the plan's demise on the premier, who he said refused to give Toronto a "fair share" of revenue from the proposed development. The mayor was initially a big supporter of a downtown complex, claiming it would garner the city $100 million in annual hosting fees.
But a revised formula released by OLG last week would have seen the city take in only $39 to $40 million. Under the same formula, an expanded Woodbine would have generated $22 million for the city each year, up from the $15 million Toronto already gets from the track's slot machines.
The mayor cancelled the special meeting to debate the casino, hoping to defer the issue until June's regular session. But 24 councillors, eager to get the long-simmering debate over with, overruled him and signed a petition to hold the meeting on May 21 as planned.
During the meeting, Ford again pointed the finger at the provincial government. "Hosting a casino in Toronto that does little to address Toronto's financial needs and simply makes the provincial government richer is not in the best interest of Toronto," Ford said. "The province wants money for nothing."