LIE: A casino would generate a "golden mile" on the waterfront.
TRUTH: Even the metaphor sucks given gold's nasty ethical rap. Toronto is a city with massive civic self-respect, and all that glitter would merely identify us with the kind of glitzy hucksterism that signals a metropolis in decline. Talk about demoralizing: instead of branding T.O. as an arts-rich, sophisticated city teaming with citizen initiative and bursting with green aspirations, we'd get stamped as a quick-buck haven where any and all manipulation is on if it yanks money out of pockets for statistically improbable gains. Most gaming operations on this continent were built as last-ditch measures in unfortunate, desperate, communities. Is that really us?
LIE: Gaming is popular entertainment, and a T.O. casino is about being consumer-responsive
TRUTH: Nothing wrong with games of chance, but that doesn't mean we have to build a shrine to them. The issue is the scale, the Disneyfication and the location of an operation based on hopeless dreams and engineered to be habit-forming. Studies show that when such a facility is nearby, like within 10 miles, locals are more likely to gamble, a fact OLG knows well. And those in the vicinity are also at greater risk of addiction. Gaming revenues are a form of tainted money, much like those from tobacco taxes, the only difference being that smokes aren't promoted the way gambling is, to the tune of $300 million a year. And it's not an equal-opportunity rip-off: poorer people fork over proportionately more of their income gambling than middle and high earners, the last contributing only 10 per cent of gaming revenue. OLG crows about its profits filling provincial coffers for good works - well, just consider it all a tax on those who can least afford it.
LIE: If we turn this down, the city will be kissing millions in revenue goodbye
TRUTH: We're being treated to a mess of dewy-eyed promises and fantastical reasoning. Start with the hilarious several-million-dollar gap ($68 mil or more) between what the city admin hallucinates it will score in hosting fees and what OLG estimates. City staff are breathless about possible tax bounty of up to $27 mil yearly, a $250 mil top-up if the facility sits on city land, plus a few thousand short-term and up to 3,600 permanent jobs. But even the city report itself says assessing the wider impacts of the project is (note the understatement) "difficult" given that a portion of casino spending "will replace spending on other entertainment." You betcha. Big boxes are customer thieves, so factor in an untold number of layoffs in businesses scorched by a mega-complex. Most studies agree that casinos benefit local business when the area is small, previously impoverished and, most importantly, when the number of visitors from outside is greater than those from nearby. Not exactly describing T.O., is it?
LIE: A casino complex would be "a world-class destination."
TRUTH: Yup, there they are, the tourist hordes massing at our borders. Ernst & Young's report floats the idea that 30 to 40 per cent of customers would be visitors, but even OLG doesn't seem to expect an onslaught from away. It notes a 70 per cent drop in U.S. residents entering Ontario, and says profits from border gaming sites have dropped from $800 to $100 mil in 10 years. We might, the studies say, talk about true economic spinoffs if casino customers shedding cash were mostly tourists and if the revenue gained made up for the destabilizing effects of a major gaming and retail operation in the city core. But how likely is this? It would be local schmoes diverting their cash from other expenditures. That's been the plan all along - OLG wants to plant a facility in populous T.O. because we are the chief targets of its seduction strategy.
LIE: A casino would "enrich Toronto's image as a centre of culture, history, entertainment and fun."
TRUTH: Oh, the puffery. This comes down to a fundamental "who exactly are we" question. This is the city of Nuit Blanche, Caribana, NXNE, the Toronto Film Festival, Hot Docs, the Canadian Opera Company, major group expressions like Pride and a galaxy of music stages, theatres and galleries. We're pretty solidly world-class as it is, thank you very much. Tourist spending on arts and culture totalled $3.7 billion in 2010. Why on earth would we disturb the weave of this cultural economy by letting slots siphon off leisure-time spending or a casino entertainment venue steal ticket sales from Massey and Roy Thomson Halls, the St. Lawrence and Sony Centres, not to mention audiences from clubs, and diners from restos?
LIE: OLG fosters a "culture of responsibility" about gambling problems.
TRUTH: For some, the warped reality of a brightly lit casino can be lethal. About 11,000 GTA residents suffer from a severe gambling addiction, and another 129,000 are at risk for same. It's estimated that a conveniently located facility could double the numbers. Young people, older adults and those with low incomes are over-represented in this combined category, which shockingly delivers 36 per cent of all gambling revenue. There is a predictable rate of betting casualties, but OLG can grow the market to make the fallen look like statistical rarities. The corp allocates $39 mil annually to treatment, education and research - less than a sixth of its promotions budget now pumping out insipid lifestyle TV ads. People are likelier to get in over their heads, research says, where the concentration of electronic games like slots is highest. And wouldn't you know it? Eighty-eight per cent of OLG "land-based" revenue comes from slots - and 70 per cent of slot profits come courtesy of troubled gamblers. It's their misery plumping up government bank accounts.
LIE: A casino complex would "embrace the city's existing architecture and urban design."
TRUTH: There's a reason why the chief exec of First Capital Realty Inc. says a casino at the CNE would destroy the "unique character and lifestyle of King Liberty Village," why the chair of the CNE fears the end of the fair and the CEO of Waterfront Toronto warns that a port lands gaming site would junk the vision for the area. Ask yourself frankly if you want a mega-plex in your neighbourhood. Consider just the transportation mess: diesel tour buses pulling up day and night, ever-present fumes, a jump in driving-while-impaired charges (research tells us to expect this) and a major squeeze on roadways and public transit. One study predicts pressure for 9,400 parking spaces. (Oh dear, the Oxford Properties plan mentions only 5,400.) The same report estimates that in Friday peak hours, a downtown casino would generate 4,500 vehicle trips, equivalent to three additional lanes of traffic. We want planned complexes of beauty and worth - a betting factory doesn't cut it.
LIE: It's really all about jobs.
TRUTH: Back to the employment-numbers shell game. Let's face the ugly fact that new jobs in a Toronto casino could well be stolen from outside the region: Casino Rama is already quaking in its boots, struggling Niagara Casinos is offering employee buyouts, and Caesars Windsor's sinking fortunes mean that city scores a pitiful $4 million in taxes this year, down from $11 mil. Add to this OLG's long-term strategy to separate horse racing from slot profits, threatening an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 jobs in the industry that generates a wider range of spinoffs than other gaming. One more stab in the heart of economies outside the metropolis.
Sources: CAMH; Casinos, Crime And Community Costs, by Earl L. Grinols and David B. Mustard; Economic Impacts Of Gambling, by Earl L. Grinols; Community Health Impacts Of A Casino In Toronto (Toronto Board of Health); Modernizing Lottery And Gaming in Ontario, by the OLG; Mega Casino Transport Analysis, Toop, Zhou, Ding (U of T); City of Toronto staff report: Considering A New Casino In Toronto; Potential Commercial Casino in Toronto, Ernst & Young