Toronto is consistently rated as one of the top cities in the world. I do not support any proposal that will diminish Toronto. I will not support a Downtown casino.
By Pam McConnell –
Over the last several months, I have spoken to many residents in Ward 28 and have received numerous calls and messages about the proposal to locate a casino in downtown Toronto. The vast majority of residents and business owners are very worried about a casino in Toronto and the resulting social impact and the affect on our community. I share these concerns, and I feel that the negative aspects far outweigh any perceived benefit.
One of the key arguments in favour of a casino continues to be the employment opportunities , with the promise of hundreds of jobs in both the construction and hospitality industries, along with various spin-off jobs. These jobs are very important to the city’s economy and to our community. However, I feel that we can achieve this goal without relying on a casino as the catalyst. With the Pan and ParaPan Am Games, we are experiencing an exciting boom that is accelerating the build-out of the West Don Lands community. This development, along with the sporting event itself, will create substantial benefits in the years to come. We should continue to follow this model and work towards expanding our job base through attracting events, investment, and businesses that bring positive and healthy benefits to the city as a whole.
In addition, it seems unlikely that a casino will increase tourism . Toronto already has a strong tourist industry, based upon Toronto’s vibrant arts, culture, and events, as well as attracting conventions to our various facilities. Events like Nuit Blanche, the Caribbean Carnival, and Pride attract visitors and bring tourist dollars from around the world, without the need for a casino. A casino would do little to add to this industry, and with a large number of casinos around the world, Toronto will never become a casino destination. The best way to increase tourism is to enhance marketing the city and our unique attractions.
A compelling argument in favour of a casino is the perceived financial benefit , but I feel that these have been greatly overstated. First, the majority of revenues generated by a casino will not stay inside the city, with a significant portion going to the casino operator. Second, the property tax revenue would come to the City regardless of the type of development on a site, and a casino would not necessarily increase the taxes received.
Meanwhile, the amount of funds that would come to the City through hosting fees has not been finalized and varies wildly, but it does not constitute a substantial windfall. In fact, the most relevant experience the City of Toronto has in this area is with the Woodbine racetrack, where the City’s total take is only $18 million per year. Most recently, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) refused to negotiate better terms with the City around bingos, which will see the City’s share of revenue decrease while the OLG takes a larger cut. The $100 million to $200 million per year hosting fee that has been suggested has never been realized in any North American city, and it most certainly will not be the case here.
Finally, the City would only receive funds from land sales or leasing if it involved City lands. The question then becomes whether a casino is the best use of City property. Once this land is handed over ? either in a sale or a lease ? it will essentially be gone forever, and it will limit the types of development that can happen around it. The CEO of Waterfront Toronto has recently confirmed that a casino in the Port Lands will restrict the vision for the area ? residential buildings will not be built in proximity and some businesses and other functions will not locate nearby. Also, the Chair of the CNE has publicly stated that a casino at Exhibition Place would essentially shut down all other uses, and that the proposal that has been put forward would have the same footprint equal to four times the Direct Energy Centre.
Meanwhile, I’m concerned that the negative impacts are being minimized. Problem gambling has severe repercussions on individuals ? in addiction, mental illness, and financial hardship ? which becomes a problem for the entire community ? including the social supports required to address the problems. I recently spoke to an individual, whose recreational gambling gradually became a full addiction, leading from financial security to being on the verge of losing housing. This heart wrenching story, like others I?ve heard, underscores the potential threat, and I strongly feel that we should not set “acceptable” thresholds to the social cost, or dismiss the harm because of some financial benefit.
The damage caused by a casino extends into the urban fabric . Along with the extensive parking requirements and the additional cars that would be added to our current congestion, by their nature, casinos do not add to street animation. These facilities are windowless and separated from the public realm, creating a wasteland on the street. With its size and configuration, a casino in the downtown would resemble a big box retail outlet.
Finally, residents have expressed frustration with the City’s consultation process . Many felt that the open house format at the first consultation discouraged the sharing of comments and limited input. I was also concerned about the number of casino lobbyists that easily moved through the room, attempting to pressure residents into supporting a casino proposal. Following that first meeting, I pressed the City Manager to make changes to the meeting format, which was done for subsequent consultation sessions. I also expressed concern that the reliance on written feedback limits expression and creates a barrier to those who are not comfortable with written communications or do not have English as a first language.
Let us be very clear about what this casino proposal is all about. The OLG did not suggest a casino in Toronto as a way to help the City address any financial difficulties. This proposal is entirely about the provincial government grappling with its own finances While Toronto ? like every other municipality ? is required to have a balanced budget, with borrowing for only capital expenses, the province is struggling inside a fiscal hole for operating costs. In other words, the City borrows only for its mortgage while the province is paying for groceries on the credit card.
The province wants a casino to work its way out of a $11.9 billion deficit. After downloading child care, affordable housing, and other social services onto municipalities, it is running out of ways for municipalities to cover the province?s obligations. Without any other ways to feed off the City?s property tax base, it is now seeking to feed off the City?s property.
Toronto is consistently rated as one of the top cities in the world for investment, for livability, and as a tourist destination. A casino would add no value to what makes residents most proud of their city. On the contrary, the negative implications can only defeat all of the effort we have expended to create a vibrant city. And we need to ask ourselves what sort of city we want to leave for future generations. Do we want Atlantic City or New York City? Do we want Biloxi or Boston? Do we want Las Vegas or San Francisco?
I do not support any proposal that will diminish Toronto. I will not support a Downtown casino.
The role of government is to protect and promote the public good. The public good cannot be measured as a simple dollar figure on an account ledger’s bottom line. The public good is about making smart and considered decisions that promote and enhance the health and liveability of our communities ? good planning, good programs, good services, good jobs. A casino does not fit inside this equation.
Government should never be about exploiting weaknesses for financial gain, and governments must do better than simple subtraction to determine if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Does the health and well-being of families and communities matter less than a sum of money?
I encourage everyone to fill in the feedback form at before this Friday’s deadline at www.toronto.ca/casinoconsultation, to ensure your voice is heard at the March 2013 Executive meeting. Your input is vital to ensuring that our Toronto continues to prosper as a vibrant and diverse world-class city.