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Time to Read Proposed Casino its Last Rites
Between a hazy City report and broad popular opposition, the casino is all but dead

Yesterday morning the city finally released its report on the proposed casino. Councillors on the fence about the casino have insisted that they want to wait for the hard numbers of the report before making a decision. Alas, the report contains nothing firm.

It lists the revenue projections for two different sized gaming floors (135,000 versus 175,000 sq. feet) and just how big the other components of the development will be is equally undetermined. Moreover, both the OLG and the city’s estimates are both indeed estimates. The report states that the deal hinges on the province’s revenue sharing formula, and this is still unconfirmed. Rather, Premier Wynne has said repeatedly that Toronto won’t get a better deal. Mayor Ford has asked for a “fair” deal, saying he’s going to fight on this issue tooth and nail.

Yes, the report gives no new information about the report’s most crucial aspect. All it does is justify citing the old estimated hosting fee by noting that it’s outdated. The report was supposed to give councillors the hard facts needed to judge the merits of the proposed casino. It hasn’t.

Still, Mayor Ford released an open letter in the various newspapers yesterday morning (there were allegations that he had gone public with the report before  other councillors had gained access to it) using the projected figures as a spring board. If the report is up front about being inconclusive, you’d never know from hearing our Mayor trumpet the numbers.

For many councillors the crux of the casino deal apparently depends not on whether Torontonians want one (which was OLG’s claim), or on whether or not the casino will adverse effect the city, but solely on whether or not there’s enough money. In other words, we’re noble enough to only whore ourselves for the right price. $100 million annually is apparently the satisfactory number, making the city’s hourly prostitution rate $11 415.

Yet two incidents from last Thursday’s city hall meeting convinced me that the proposed mega-casino will not actually materialize.

The first was my talk with Councillor Vaughan, a fierce opponent of the casino. First he told me about the casino lobby’s latest sly tactic. The casino lobby is trying to make bingo electronic as a first step to getting electronic gambling rezoned. Once electronic bingo has been approved, hugely expanding slot machines will be a much smaller step. It may surprise some to learn that without slots, casinos are crippled. They’ve been called the “crack” of gambling because they’re so cheap and addictive. In The Wire’s parlance, OLG’s modernization process is just a re-up.

But Vaughan firmly stated what everyone is coming to realise: the only people who want a casino here are those with a vested interest, namely the unions who gain jobs and the casino lobby itself. Even a Toronto Sun poll indicated a majority opposed the casino (albeit just over 50%, but still, that’s the Sun). Read the comment section from almost any article about the Toronto casino and you will see the most elusive of online phenomena–a long and unbroken series of civil consensus. Still, I said to Vaughan that though it’s evident nobody actually wants a casino, it does seem like it might still happen. “No, it won’t,” was his plain and assured response. He smiled the way people do when they’re charged with reassuring someone who is worried despite the total absence of a threat, like a parent telling his scared child that there’s no monster in the closet.

Just at city council’s lunch break, no less than 265 religious leaders were represented in a press conference in the rotunda downstairs to speak out against the proposed Toronto mega-casino. Sometimes religions don’t get along so well, but Thursday was different. Indeed, my own opinions aren’t usually in line with any religious leaders, let alone 265. This wasn’t some urban leftists uniting to voice their opposition. While it may not be shocking to learn that religious communities oppose a casino, this wide swath overlaps with much of Ford’s conservative base. Everyday it’s becoming harder and harder to believe that a majority of people here want a casino. In response, Mayor Ford said, “the majority of people want a casino.”

The sharpest and most colourful attack came from Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, who asked how we, as people of good conscience, can sleep at night if we are willing to just “fleece the poor.” What everybody calls the “social costs” of the casino he termed “gory collateral damage.” This Guru has literary chops.

Just before the speeches, I spoke with a former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, the Very Reverend Bruce McLeod. He told me that all faith communities deal with the fallout from gambling first-hand. But he had harsh words for the government. “Many Gamblers Anonymous members meet in our religious buildings, and these people are the prey of the casino people…The government counts on them. The government is the worst addict of them all, it needs the money.”

He stated that the religious community was opposed to the expansion of gambling in Ontario in the ‘90s under the NDP, and opposed it now even if it did fund badly needed infrastructure. “Casinos and lotteries are hidden taxes. If we need to improve our city let’s raise the taxes together, not depend on the gambling addicts to provide money for it. Let alone the American entrepreneurs who come up here and try and sell us the idea. We don’t need their money, we can do it ourselves.”

The city report is a perfunctory document. All it does is allow councillors to claim they’ve seen a report without lying, yet nobody can seriously believe we have the casino’s final numbers. For what it’s worth, the report cites that 40% of Torontonians don’t want a casino no matter how much revenue it brings, and also that opposition to the casino is strongest the nearer you go to the proposed site. This could be reasonably intuited before. Anyway, nothing in the report assuages these objections.

But encouragingly, the signs from the broader community and from inside City Hall suggest that the casino is dying a slow public death, that if it wasn’t for all the money behind the casino lobby it would have died some time ago, and what we’re seeing now is just a hurried and desperate effort from those who stand to gain to make it appear like the casino scam was plausible and popular in the first place. Even if we ignore the moral and social objections to the casino, the city’s report itself is perhaps the casino’s final indictment: if the casino numbers really did make sense, surely the report would have been a lovely time to include them.


Jeff Halperin is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JDhalperin.

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