The wing-tips are a surefire giveaway, the preferred footwear of City Hall lobbyists.
I have no evidence to back that up, but there were enough on the feet of influence-peddlers at Monday's, May 14, exec committee meeting discussing Adam Vaughan's call for a referendum on casinos.
Councillor Shelley Carroll was moved by the overwhelming presence of PR hacks (my word, not hers) to remark that in her eight years on council she'd never seen so many lobbyists in a room at one time.
"Here we are, the first time we're dealing with this at committee, and there are three or four people from each firm. I thought, ‘Gentlemen, come on.'"
She's not the only one taken aback by the preponderance of blue-suited salesmen lining up at City Hall these days to pitch casinos - sorry, "superior integrated entertainment products," as Canadian Gaming Association prez Bill Rutsey calls them. Even deputy mayor and staunch conservativo Councillor Doug Holyday is calling for a ban on casino lobbying. He's asked staff to investigate the matter, as well as the idea of putting a fairness commissioner in charge to oversee the behind-the-scenes stroking. Is he suggesting inducements may be offered? Damn right.
"There's millions of dollars at stake, and people with millions of dollars wanting a casino to happen." That about sums it up.
The behind-the-scenes arm-twisting - sorry, lobbying - on this gambling business has only gotten more urgent since recent musings by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation chair Paul Godfrey that if Toronto doesn't want a casino on its waterfront, some other place will.
The BS detector in me smells a hint of desperation in Godfrey's ultimatum. Those public opinion polls on the question of casinos haven't exactly been a slam dunk.
Certainly, the executive is divided, punting the matter to staff until October for further study, and more than a few among the mayor's men have expressed strong reservations about the benefits to be derived from a gambling facility - even one cast as a "destination resort" with a hotel and retail shops.
But about those pesky lobbyists....
They usually keep a low profile, maybe showing up during a vote of council. That's part of the game.
But they were out in force Monday - everyone from the heavy hitters to smaller "government affairs" outfits staffed by familiar faces like former city councillors and chiefs of staffs of former mayors. So cozy.
But casino pushers have a PR problem. Their over-representation at the meeting may reflect another fact - that there's little public support for a casino. If it's such a good idea with real community benefits, we wouldn't need so many lobbyists to sell it.
Carroll says it'll never fly.
"No one is going to take this in their neighbourhood, because we all know what happens around a casino around the world wherever you go: three blocks of boarded-up properties."
If the numbers around problem gambling suggested by several deputants at Monday's meeting are to be believed (Rob Simpson, founding CEO of the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre says 35 per cent of all revenue comes from those with moderate to severe gambling problems), it's safe to say that more than a few councillors are experiencing that fallout now.
"Gambling is already a problem in my ward," says Carroll. "Near where I live, in the malls north and south of the 401, any night of the week you can get on a bus that'll drive you to Casino Rama. The people getting off those buses look pretty darn ghostly. Why would we want a casino closer? I'm not going to build conditions into [residents'] lives that create those problems. Neither will most councillors."
Even the mayor seemed strangely monotone (even for him) in his prepared address to the executive urging a staff report - and he used to live right across the street from Woodbine racetrack. He doesn't seem to be feeling the excitement.
But where ongoing talk of a casino is concerned, the big roulette wheel in the sky keeps on turning up surprises.
Exhibit A: the Sussex Strategy Group. Just what is a PR firm with big Liberal party ties doing leading the charge on a project that, politically, is a big loser for the provincial Grits in T.O.? The web of those connections leads mostly back to Godfrey (see sidebar).
It's like 1997 all over again, when a guy named Mel Lastman was mayor and Godfrey ran this town from his kitchen table.
Sure, he can still get meetings with editorial boards to push his causes, but this casino thing is beginning to smell like a dead fish in more ways than one.
There hasn't been a decision where to (hypothetically) put the thing, yet high rollers from MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas sent pitchmen to hand out leather-bound press kits at Monday's meeting. The kicker? They want the city to give them the land to build their swanky gambling resort. Talk about audacity.
Not entirely surprising, though, given the way the gambling industry is used to throwing its weight around. Buyer beware: MGM's financial situation isn't all that sweet these days. Seems its venture in China is taking more money out of the kitty than it's bringing in.
That CityCentre mega-complex MGM reps proudly showed off to committee members as the crown jewel of its many holdings on the Las Vegas strip is also the subject of a major lawsuit - a nearly half-billion-dollar doozy brought by the builder alleging failure to pay for extra work completed on the project whose cost spiralled from $3.5 billion to $6.8 billion.
Some negative publicity has also followed MGM over its recent big- money deal with controversial figures in the online poker biz (currently illegal in the U.S.) who've been the subject of a $105 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over illegal gambling charges.
The casino biz in general is on the slide. Those record profits aren't coming in any more for a whole host of reasons, the recession chief among them.
Even Vegas resorts are seeing unprecedented room vacancies despite modest profits. So it's not difficult to see why gaming's biggest players are lining up for the next big thing. A captive audience of 3 million people is a tempting market.