Anyone who wants to see a casino built in downtown Toronto has a lot of convincing to do, if a packed public meeting at City Hall Wednesday night is any indication.
Roughly 200 people turned out for the meeting of the Toronto and East York Community Council, the local body made up of downtown and East York councillors that usually deals with minor local matters. Although the item up for debate was an otherwise inconsequential report about how zoning bylaws might affect a future casino, dozens of residents took the opportunity to sign up and decry the negative social and economic impacts they claim would accompany any gambling facility.
"Why on earth would Toronto need a casino with all of the other things there are to do here?" asked Angie Romo, one of the roughly 30 people who spoke to the packed council chamber. "We have plenty already to attract citizens to live here, and tourists to visit - restaurants, boutiques, festivals year round, Harbourfront, sports arenas, community centers, not to mention clean and safe streets."
"A casino would kill all of these wonderful things," she argued.
"There was an overwhelming statement on the part of Torontonians not to put a casino in our city," said Councillor Gord Perks after the meeting, which stretched until nearly 11 pm. "I can't think of another time I've seen [such] a unanimous set of deputations on an issue like this."
But proponents of a plan to bring a casino to Toronto aren't hard to find. Although no official proposal has been put forth, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has signaled it wants to see a facility built near the downtown, with Exhibition Place among the likelier sites. Industry giants like MGM and Caesars are actively lobbying councillors.
Mayor Rob Ford is also a fan. Earlier Wednesday, he told the Toronto Sun "I'm still open to the idea."
Two hours before the meeting, the Canadian Gaming Association held a press conference across the street from City Hall to launch a website called Toronto Casino Facts, which CGA president Bill Rutsey said is intended to "cut through the rhetoric" of the gambling debate.
Rutsey, who spoke at the meeting and was grilled by skepitcal councillors afterwards, said that while he felt hearing from the public was a positive exercise, Wednesday's meeting wasn't indicative of how the wider population feels.
"Usually at a public forum like this, people that are generally opposed to something turn out in greater numbers," Rutsey told reporters. "The people that are ok with it or don't have an opinion one way or another, they're at home watching television."
The CGA argues that a "destination gaming resort" in Toronto would attract tourists, generate development revenue, and create 6,000 construction jobs, and 12,000 permanent jobs.
Representatives from unions like UNITE HERE and the Service Employees International Union appear to agree that a casino would create employment, and were among the handful of speakers at the meeting who warmed to the idea of a gambling complex.
But Councillor Adam Vaughan says it would be foolish to trust the CGA's numbers while there remain no specific plans for the location or size of a gambling complex. He dismissed association's jobs figures as "corporate pornography."
"The job numbers are fake," he said. "It's fancy pictures and boasts of big numbers."
The casino debate is expected to flare up again next month, when Ford's executive committee will consider a staff report on the impact a gaming facility would have on the city.