Despite the litany of pitches from casino owners and the verging-on-offensive barrage of advertising by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), it's reassuring to know that most Torontonians haven't been fooled by the propaganda.
There are many arguments being made against a casino and I have written about them in the last few months. According to transportation planners for the University of Toronto, a mega-casino would require close to 10,000 parking spots, generating tens of thousands more vehicle trips per day. The city's own casino consultant, Ernst & Young, estimates that 64 per cent of casino revenue would come from money currently spent in Toronto, cannibalizing local businesses.
And Toronto's medical officer of health believes the number of people in the GTA with a gambling addiction (currently 11,000, with 100,000 classified as problem gamblers) would double if a mega-casino were built downtown.
Beyond the immeasurable impacts on the local community, the benefits to the city are still unclear. The financial estimates the casino industry has given us are grossly exaggerated.
What is not being discussed is how the Ontario Government is banking on more of its citizens becoming addicted to gambling to balance its books. Instead of using progressive income taxes to fund programs accessed by all Ontarians, the province is preying on a smaller group of people, often those most disadvantaged.
One of the largest roles government plays is to ensure its citizens live with dignity, freedom, and equality. Under these values, government works to ensure our families, neighbours, and communities' most basic needs are being met.
The province's current attempt to spread slot machines and mega casinos does not fit in with the values of our democracy.
Instead it creates a government dependent on the revenue drawn from the proliferation of highly addictive gambling methods and opportunities - a government that run services, from which we all benefit, off of the addiction of increasing segments of its population.
Casinos are not lotteries. Most of their revenues, about 60 per cent, come from slot machines, the most addictive form of gambling that has been studied for years by behavioural scientists.The gaming industry and the government know this.
Casino revenues are dependent on those addicted. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, as much as 30 to 40 per cent of casinos' revenue comes from problem gamblers.
The gambling industry uses the term "playing to extinction" to describe the strategy of keeping players at the machines until they're completely tapped out.
Casinos drive addiction not only through the nature of slot machines, but also by their proximity to large populations. The OLG's "modernization" strategy seeks to increase gambling in Ontario by attracting more and younger people. Both aims can be achieved by placing mega-casinos in downtown cores.
Last May, in order to eliminate barriers to casino expansion, the province quietly changed the Ontario Lottery And Gaming Corporations Act so a referendum on the question of a casino would no longer be required.
When you remove people's right to vote on so vital an issue, you remove their power. MGM, Caesars, Las Vegas Sands - their power is their wealth, influence and teams of lobbyists. The OLG's power is its immense budget and incredible multimillion-dollar ad buys. The people's power is their democratic rights.
The province, and many city councillors, seems only to have time for the gambling industry. Every Toronto lobbyist seems to be on retainer to a casino operator. Many of the Las Vegas billionaires have themselves come to City Hall. Who can blame them? This could be their next jackpot.
In the face of these giants, democracy still has a strong pulse. Nocasinotoronto.com was started around an Etobicoke kitchen table, and its numbers have steadily grown along with its voice.
The business community, former mayors and residents associations have joined. Buttons, lawn signs and petitions are spreading across our city.
A grassroots movement is taking shape to level the playing field. I firmly believe that if put to a vote, there would be no mega-casino in downtown Toronto. But even without that option, the odds are still with the people.
Mike Layton is Toronto city councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.