Debating the Merits of a Toronto Casino

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TORONTO — As speculation continues to mount regarding the possibility of a casino being built in Toronto, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) invited its membership to an information-sharing meeting this week at the Metro Convention Centre — one of several sites being touted as a possible location for a new casino development, which would include an expanded convention centre and a new hotel.

Debbie DeMonte, chair of the ORHMA, and owner of The Longest Yard restaurant, welcomed Toronto delegates to the meeting. “The Toronto Region of the Board does not have a formal position on casinos,” she began. “The purpose of the meeting today is to determine the impact of casinos on the restaurant industry. We’re doing the right thing to have all the right info,” stressed DeMonte, “Don’t jump on or off the bandwagon until you get all the facts,” she advised operators. Ultimately, she added, “The City of Toronto will make the decision based on the public interest.”

John Nunziata, former Liberal MP and debate moderator, introduced Paul Godfrey, president of Post Media and chair of the Ontario Lottery Gaming (OLG), and Anne Golden, nationally renowned public policy specialist to present the pros and cons of casino development. Godfrey tried to convince the audience about the value of a casino, stressing the revenues generated through gaming will benefit everyone. He pointed out the reality that cash-strapped governments no longer have the money to build large convention centres. “The private sector will take all the risk. The project would create 12,000 full- and part-time jobs and bring billions in capital investment.”

Pointing to the hospitality industry itself, Godfrey said a casino would generate $400 million in new tourism revenues with 800,000 visitors expected to the city. “It would put Toronto in the Top 10 of convention cities,” he said, stressing that it wouldn’t pose damage to existing businesses. “We have no interest in damaging business that already exists. We will have a bigger pie to divide,” he said.

While OLG is not “wedded” to a downtown location, Godfrey warned that if a casino is built in the suburbs it will not be as big or as profitable as a downtown location. He also advised operators “If city council votes it down, we will build in Markham, Mississauga or Vaughan. There won’t be another one in Toronto if that’s the case.”

Golden took the stage to present the opposing side of the debate, warning operators there are serious negative ramifications to casinos. First off, she said, there’s no evidence a casino development would create more jobs than any other kind of development. Secondly, she said, there are increased rates of addiction and crime rates with the introduction of casinos in any community.

As for increased tourism to the city, Golden is skeptical. “Most casinos are designed to keep guests in their orbit,” she countered. “Downtown Toronto is already a tourist magnet,” she stressed, adding the “economic impacts are greater in smaller communities. Windsor is not a tourist mecca so perhaps a casino would be better for Markham or Vaughan as they aren’t tourist destinations.”

According to Godfrey, a decision will have to be made by March 2013.

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