"Toronto is not about to become another Las Vegas, a tourist gambling destination. And we wouldn’t want it to," write Crombie, Sewell, and Eggleton.
As the current mayor of Toronto backs plans to build a mega-casino downtown, three former ones are urging him to abandon the idea.
David Crombie, John Sewell, and Art Eglleton sent an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and council on Wednesday, warning them to not to be sucked in by arguments from casino proponents.
"In the years we served in office, we saw countless proposals that proponents said would bring the city big revenues, many jobs, and much prestige," the trio writes. "And some of them did, but beware the sales pitch. The numbers don't always add up, and we think that is a real possibility in this case."
The letter cautions that revenue predictions for a casino might be inflated, and the cost to the city in congestion and crime are being underestimated. The former mayors also argue that the "social costs of gambling must also be taken seriously," including increases in problem gambling, poverty, homelessness, and drug and alcohol addiction.
The threesome cites an RCMP report that linked British Columbia casinos to organized crime, and a study by a Baylor University professor that found for every $1 a city benefits from a casino, there is a cost of $3.
"Toronto is not about to become another Las Vegas, a tourist gambling destination. And we wouldn't want it to," the letter says.
"There are already enough gambling opportunities. We say enough is enough. Governments shouldn't be expanding gambling opportunities as a means of balancing their budgets. A commercial casino operation is not in Toronto's best interest."
David Crombie served as mayor of Toronto from 1972 to 1978, and was nicknamed "the tiny, perfect mayor" for his diminutive stature and broad political appeal. During the 2010 election, he endorsed George Smitherman, Ford's opponent.
John Sewell, a lawyer by profession, served from 1978 to 1980, and was a columnist for NOW Magazine in the 1990s.
Art Eggleton was mayor from 1980 to 1991, and was elected as a Liberal MP for York Centre in 1993. He's currently a senator.
Debate about bringing a casino-hotel complex to downtown Toronto has been raging since March, 2012, when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission unveiled its "modernization strategy," which included plans to build new gambling facilities in the Greater Toronto Area.
In recent months, representatives from casino giants like MGM, Las Vegas Sands, and Caesars have flocked to Toronto to make their case, and lobbyists hired by the companies are also pressing the flesh at City Hall. Possible sites have been narrowed down to Exhibition Place, the Port Lands, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and Woodbine racetrack.
Ford has been a vocal supporter of the idea, telling participants at a city consultation in Etobicoke earlier this month, "I've been very clear. This can create 10,000 good paying jobs. I don't know how people can say no to that."
Many council members oppose the idea however, arguing that revenue and job projections have been vastly overstated.
A city-wide casino consultation wraps up this week. Council is expected to make a final decision at its meeting in April.