All eyes will be on the mayor's executive this morning as it convenes to digest city manager Joe Pennachetti's casino report - and what a sleight of hand that is.
Some 200 people have signed up to speak on the issue, the overwhelming number of them opposed. Whether they'll be able to sway enough votes to kill Rob Ford's casino dream on the spot, as some in the media are speculating, is doubtful.
There are enough "conditions" in Pennachetti's report to provide political cover for the brown-nosers on the mayor's exec and get the issue to council, where it looks like it may die anyway. We'll see. On Friday April 12, the CNE Board of Governors, which oversees Exhibition Place, a site proposed by MGM for a casino complex, narrowly voted to endorse Pennachetti's report.
That $100 million in hosting fees for the city that Pennachetti's dangling looks good on paper, even if it is make believe. Premier Kathleen Wynne has put the kibosh on Toronto getting anywhere near that kind of bread.
Whatever the political permutations around a downtown casino, it may all be for naught.
Up the road at Queen's Park, time is running out on the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp's (OLG) so-called "modernization" plans that gave rise to all the casino talk in the first place.
What are the chances the entire proposal to carpet bomb the province with 29 news casinos, will be shelved? It's a question that increasingly can't be ignored.
The rationale for the Wynne government, which has never been comfortable with the idea of selling gambling to a whole new generation of potential addicts anyway, is slowly being put in place.
Last Wednesday, the Legislature's public accounts committee passed a motion asking the Auditor General of Ontario to commence "an immediate review" of OLG's plans - including "whether any special, secret or one-off deals are being negotiated between different municipalities for different reasons." Here's looking at you T.O.
The committee also asked the AG to investigate "whether [OLG] has
employed or is employing a clear, consistent and transparent process for tendering, contracting and planning for any and all new or proposed casinos, gaming facilities, bingo halls, online gaming and lotteries throughout Ontario." Short answer: nah.
Then there's this: "Whether the province and/or [OLG] has adequately taken into consideration community impacts on mental health and for addiction matters related to the implementation of the new ‘modernization plan.'"
And whether "the province or [OLG] has conducted a broad enough consultation process to ascertain whether or not new casinos are welcome in various communities throughout Ontario." The AG was also asked to review the Slots at Racetracks Program.
The real kicker: the motion, tabled by PC MPP Frank Klees, was backed unanimously 8-0 - with four Liberal government members dominating the committee. That's a switch.
Last month, government members opposed an NDP motion passed by the Legislature calling on the government to delay the OLG's modernization plans until after the 2014 municipal elections so that municipalities interested in hosting a casino can put that question on the ballot.
So what's changed?
Publicly Wynne has been coy about OLG's privatization plans. The reality is, however, that she's never liked the idea. It goes back to her time as municipal affairs minister.
Behind closed doors in the Liberal caucus, OLG's plans have been a matter of growing concern, and not just because they're getting in the way of the Libs mending fences with rural voters, who fear OLG's plans will cannibalize existing casinos and kill the horse racing industry.
There's angst too over whether relying on gambling for revenue is a smart or sustainable strategy for economic development, despite all the noise about gambling being an important source of revenue for the province.
To say nothing of the social costs, which have been given short shrift, except by casino foes, and were all but ignored in Pennachetti's report.
Among the Liberals to vote aye to Klees's motion is Oak Ridges-Markham MPP Helena Jaczek, the Liberal caucus chair whose much-sought-after endorsement during the Liberal leadership race went to Wynne.
Jaczek, a former medical officer of health for York Region, is parliamentary assistant to the minister of health, and Wynne's right hand, Deb Matthews. She says she's "personally very disturbed about any increase in gambling in the province leading to major problems... [and] sucking in young people who don't understand probabilities. Why the hell do we need more of these things [casinos]? That discussion is alive and well in our party."
The same, however, can't be said for the administration at City Hall, which seems to want to shut out the growing opposition all around. Another small sign of that: at this morning's exec meeting, casino opponents were asked by security to remove their No Casino Toronto buttons. But for Ford, the writing may already be on the wall. Even if his exec endorses Pennachetti's report, it'll be impossible for the undecided among city councillors to ignore the cues coming from Queen's Park when it gets to council.