Caesars renderings of a downtown Toronto casino.
Today, the city manager released his much-anticipated casino report. But it does little to clear up confusion over how much Toronto would benefit from a downtown mega-resort.
Unusually for a staff report, the document does not recommend a clear course of action for council to take. Instead it lays out two paths: either conditionally accept a new casino, or reject it outright.
Among its 43 conditions for acceptance: council has final say of the development location; the casino complex includes enough convention space to bring Toronto "within reach of the top ten convention destinations in North America"; the casino operator works with the medical officer of health to mitigate negative social impacts; and any necessary transit or other infrastructure projects be fully funded by the casino operator.
The report also rules out the Port Lands as a possible casino site and recommends expanding operations at Woodbine Racetrack to include live gambling tables, in addition to existing slot machines.
But absent from the document is a figure that many councillors say will be critical to determining their vote on the casino issue: a hard number on how much money the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission would give the city for hosting a gambling resort.
Several council members have said that they will reject the casino proposal if the hosting fee is less than $100 million.
Instead of providing a firm number, the report proposes that OLG agree to share government casino revenues 50/50 between the city and province, with a guarantee that Toronto's cut will not dip below $100 million a year.
If OLG agreed, the report says, the city could expect between $111-148 million in annual revenues, depending on the size of the establishment. But OLG has given no signal it would accept such a deal, and casino opponents were quick to denounce the city manager's numbers as inflated.
"There is no way on God's green earth [that] the province is going to assign a hosting fee to Toronto ten times higher than any other casino in Ontario," said Councillor Adam Vaughan.
"The numbers are ridiculous, and the whole project is a fantasy. Let's just get rid of it, and move on."
Premier Kathleen Wynne has made clear that the OLG should not give Toronto any special hosting fee deal that would not also be available to other Ontario communities.
Although the 50/50 revenue sharing formula would result in much higher payments to Toronto than OLG currently gives to any other municipality, City Manager Joe Pennachetti believes that it would not represent a preferential arrangement.
At a media briefing Monday he suggested that the province could decide that any city able to attract a casino development worth $2 billion or more could also be given a 50/50 split of revenues. He denied that that was simply a roundabout way of giving Toronto a special deal because it would be difficult for other cities to support such a large development.
"It's not a special deal," he said. "You don't have to have a large municipality to have a big development. That happens in other cities across the world."
While he conceded that in the course of negotiations with the city OLG has not gone above $100 million, he was adamant that the report's higher numbers are realistic.
"Those are real numbers. They're not fictitious numbers. I want to be clear on that," he told reporters.
Asked about Penachetti's 50/50 proposal at a Toronto Region Board of Trade event, Wynne reiterated that there should be a single revenue-sharing formula applied uniformly across the province. But it was unclear if she intended to preclude the type of arrangement the manager's report envisions.
"Obviously, a larger municipality is going to have a larger facility, you know - the economy of scale changes depending on the population, depending on the people who'd use a facility," she said, "but that doesn't mean that the formula has to change. The formula can be the same applied across the province, with no special deals for any municipality."
The lack of a solid hosting fee projection has not dampened Rob Ford's enthusiasm for the casino project. The mayor issued an open letter Sunday calling a new gaming complex a "golden opportunity" for Toronto because of the jobs it would create and the visitors its convention space would attract.
He repeated that sentiment at a press conference Monday afternoon.
"I believe we should say yes, absolutely yes, on terms that work for Toronto," he said.
"The fact is, this is a golden opportunity that may not come up again. A convention and gaming complex in Toronto could generate about $150 million for the city each and every year."
Asked if he was certain about the $150-million projection, Ford said it "might be off a few million here and there" but that after meeting with Premier Wynne two weeks ago, he believes the final fee "will be in and around that number."
The OLG is expected to reach an agreement with the city on a revenue-sharing formula by the end of April. Before then, Rob Ford's executive committee will debate the city manager's report at a special two-day meeting on April 15 and 16. After that, it will likely go to council next month, by which time the hosting fee should be known.
At least one member of Ford's executive believes it might be prudent for the committee to wait for a final hosting fee formula before considering the report.
"Waiting two weeks or two months would be fine by me if we get the answers we need," Councillor Peter Milczyn said. "There are many members of executive committee, like myself, that aren't sold on this yet without having some proof being shown to us. Without a formula, without money, what's the deal here? It's a pig in a poke potentially."
According to a telephone poll commissioned by the city manager for the report, 50 per cent of Torontonians opposed a new casino, 42 per cent supported it, and 8 per cent had "mixed feelings."
With files from Jonathan Goldsbie.