A controversial proposal to build a casino in downtown Toronto is headed to council, after being approved by Rob Ford's executive on Tuesday.
In a 9-4 vote, councillors on the committee approved a recommendation from the city manager that would allow the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to seek out potential operators for a large gambling hall and convention space at Exhibition Place or the downtown core.
Also approved was a proposal to expand gaming operations at Woodbine to include live dealers in addition to the existing electronic games.
But the vote at the mayor's cabinet-like committee was hardly unanimous despite the mayor identifying a casino as one of his key policy items, indicating it's headed for a rough time at council where a majority of members appear ready to vote it down.
Four councillors on the executive - Paul Ainslie, Jaye Robinson, Peter Milczyn, and Denzil Minnan-Wong - broke ranks and voted against the casino plan, citing concerns that ranged from the immorality of gambling to potential job losses and damage to the city's "brand."
"I don't think casinos represent the values of the city of Toronto," Minnan-Wong told the meeting. "I don't believe gambling and all the things associated with it represent the values that I have, and I don't think it represents the values of the constituents in my ward."
Robinson said residents in her ward believe Toronto would be better served by promoting arts and culture or fostering healthy neighbourhoods instead of inviting a casino to town.
"In my constituents' view, there are better ways to go about city building," she said.
Going into the meeting, Ainslie's position was the subject of much speculation. He was publicly undecided but had been on the outs with Ford at least since last month, when he was quoted in a Toronto Star story about the mayor being asked to leave an armed forces gala for being intoxicated.
But in a post-meeting interview, Ainslie said that he decided late last week to vote no, because he believes a casino, which Ford claims would create 10,000 jobs, would actually be a drain on the existing economy.
"We talked a lot about the economic benefits to the city," Ainslie said, "but I think we did very little to qualify [or] quantify job losses, or the economic impact of the disposable income that people are going to lose pumping it into slot machines."
He said the fact that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has not yet revealed how much revenue Toronto would receive for hosting a large casino-convention centre complex was also "a huge concern."
Shortly after the meeting wrapped up, another councillor who had been sitting on the fence released a statement saying that she too would not be supporting the casino push.
"Ultimately, the risks are simply too great," Councillor Ana Bailão said in the statement posted to her website. "A downtown casino risks the rich fabric of our downtown's residential, entertainment and business districts, which has taken decades to build."
Despite mounting evidence that the casino project is headed for defeat, Ford told reporters it would "absolutely" get through council.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "Like I said today, there was doubters today and I was confident. I'm confident people are going to see the light at the end of the day at council."
Asked if he was concerned that even members of his own executive are opposed, he replied, "Nine votes, I think that's a good beginning."
In approving the city manager's recommendations, the committee also endorsed 43 conditions that the OLG and any potential operator would be asked to abide by, including providing the city with an annual hosting fee of at least $100 million, minimizing the impact on local businesses, and giving council final say of the casino location.
Ford is expected to call a special council meeting Council will meet next month to debate the issue.
OLG is supposed to come forward by the end of April with solid figures on the hosting fee Toronto would receive.