A controversial proposal to build a casino in downtown Toronto is headed to council after being approved by Rob Ford's executive on Tuesday, April 16.
In a 9-4 vote, councillors on the committee approved a recommendation from the city manager that would allow the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to seek out potential operators for a large gambling hall and convention space at Exhibition Place or in the downtown core.
Also approved was a proposal to expand gaming operations at Woodbine to include live dealers in addition to existing electronic games.
But the vote at the mayor's cabinet-like committee was hardly unanimous, even though he identified the casino as one of his key policy items. That's a sign that the proposal is headed for a rough time at council, where a majority of members seem ready to vote it down.
Four councillors on the executive - Paul Ainslie, Jaye Robinson, Peter Milczyn and Denzil Minnan-Wong - broke ranks to vote against the casino plan, citing concerns that ranged from the immorality of gambling to potential job losses and damage to the city's "brand."
"I don't think casinos represent the values of the city of Toronto," Minnan-Wong told the meeting.
Robinson said residents in her ward believe Toronto would be better served by promoting arts and culture or fostering healthy neighbourhoods than by inviting a casino to town.
Going into the meeting, Ainslie's position was the subject of speculation. He was publicly undecided but had been on the outs with Ford since at least last month, when he was quoted in a Toronto Star story about the mayor being asked to leave an Armed Forces gala for being intoxicated.
But in a post-meeting interview, Ainslie said he decided late last week to vote no because he believes a casino, which Ford claims would create 10,000 jobs, would actually be a drain on the economy.
"I think we did very little to qualify or quantify job losses or the economic impact of the disposable income that people are going to lose pumping it into slot machines."
He said the fact that OLG has not yet revealed how much revenue Toronto would receive for hosting a large casino/convention centre complex was also "a huge concern."
Shortly after the meeting wrapped up, another councillor who had been sitting on the fence released a statement saying that she, too, would not be supporting the casino push. "Ultimately, the risks are simply too great," Councillor Ana Bailão says in the statement. "A downtown casino risks the rich fabric of our downtown's residential, entertainment and business districts, which has taken decades to build."
Despite mounting evidence that the casino project is headed for defeat, Ford told reporters it would "absolutely" get through council.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "I'm confident people are going to see the light at the end of the day at council." Asked if he was concerned that even members of his own executive are opposed, he replied, "Nine votes - I think that's a good beginning."
In approving the city manager's recommendations, the committee endorsed 43 conditions that the OLG and any potential operator would be asked to abide by, including providing the city with an annual hosting fee of at least $100 million, minimizing the impact on local businesses and giving council final say on the casino location. In a series of amendments, councillors also tacked on several of their own conditions. They included giving preference to "green" development proposals, and allocating any revenue generated by a casino toward transit expansion.
Council will debate the issue at its May 7-8 meeting.