Peggy Calvert, left, and Maureen Lynett speak to reporters after meeting with Rob Ford.
Rob Ford may be pushing for a downtown casino, but he's taking opposition to the proposal seriously.
At least according to three leaders of the No Casino Toronto group, who met with the mayor in his office Thursday afternoon.
Peggy Calvert, who co-founded the anti-casino group with her cousins Maureen and Sheila Lynett, said the mayor was "gracious" during his hour-long meeting with the trio and was genuinely interested in understanding their arguments.
"They really questioned us. We got a real grilling," says Maureen Lynett. "But we've done our homework so we knew what we were talking about."
The group said that Ford, who was joined at the sit-down by his chief of staff Mark Towhey and director of stakeholder relations Earl Provost, asked them to list their top reasons why a casino downtown would be bad for the city.
They responded that it would damage Toronto's "brand," cause social problems, increase gridlock in the already traffic-clogged core, and lead to the cannibalization of local businesses.
The mayor also asked whether the group would support a standalone casino downtown, as opposed to the "integrated entertainment complex" being floated by industry heavyweights like MGM, who envision a mix of hotels, convention space, and entertainment venues of which a gambling facility would be only one component.
The group told Ford they don't think their supporters would back that option either.
"We're opposed to a casino downtown. Standalone or not," says Maureen Lynett, a High Park resident who, when she's not leading the charge against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's expansion plans, works as artist.
The group believes that Ford's office is taking them seriously because No Casino Toronto has the support of "tens of thousands" of Torontonians. The Federation of North Toronto Residents' Associations, which claims to represent 170,000 residents, has endorsed the group, as has the Annex Residents Association. In the past week, three major real estate funds and three former Toronto mayors have also registered their opposition to a downtown gaming facility.
The group says it has raised $7,000 through its website and has over 400 orders for No Casino lawn signs.
"I'd say he listened to us, and really, really questioned us because they really wanted to know what the position is of residents," says Maureen Lynett, "because they know that ... we have become the voice of Toronto residents, those who are against the casino."
So did the three women change Ford's mind? Not exactly.
"We agreed to disagree on some points," Maureen Lynett says. "We are really against a downtown casino, and I think they are looking at how to make it work."
Mayor Ford's executive committee will debate the results of the city manager's casino consultation next month, and council is expected to make a final decision at its meeting in April on whether to allow a gaming facility downtown.