Should Toronto Host a Casino Complex?

Many of you have been asking me where I stand on the matter of building a casino in Toronto. I want to begin by making it clear; I will take my lead from you. Email me, call me or complete the poll at the end of this post and let me know how you feel about a casino.

Several plans have been proposed, and most of the proposals are looking to build a complete complex, not just a casino box that we have seen in some other areas.  The majority of the companies looking to build this casino complex are offering to invest between 4 and 6 billion dollars into the Toronto project.

The final product would include everything from a convention centre to a Cirque du Soleil training centre to a music venue. There would also be a strong retail component included in each project. The gaming area would take up approximately 20% of the space of any development.

I’ve been told that 8,000 construction jobs would be created along with another 3,000 to 4,000 permanent jobs. I think it’s also important to let you know that both Mississauga and Markham have already made it quite clear that they are more than willing to have the casino built in their communities should Toronto reject the casino proposal. This would mean in reality that a casino will still be incredibly accessible to the residents of Ward 35 and Toronto even if Toronto says “no.”

There is a clear and genuine concern about the social impacts of a casino.  This is particularly true for those who live on relatively low incomes and who might have gambling addictions or other mental health issues.

I had the experience of living in Windsor when the first casino was introduced there.  I had started my undergraduate degree at the University of Windsor and worked part-time in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Herb Gray, MP Windsor-West.  I saw the positive benefits of job creation, tourism, and revenue.  I also saw the negative side of gambling addiction.

If Toronto says “yes,” I know the question of where we should build will be top of mind for many of you. I am equally interested in what location you would consider the most appropriate in the event that a casino is approved. The Port Lands, Exhibition grounds and the land around the CN Tower have all been offered as possible locations.  I know soil in the Port Lands has contamination issues and requires expensive remediation work. It is entirely possible that the developer of a new casino would assume the cost of cleaning up the Port Lands, including property owned by the City. This would save taxpayers many millions of dollars. However, I’m unsure as to whether this location is too isolated from the remainder of the City to be practical.  At the moment there is not a strong transit link, though presumably if a casino were to be built the developer would create a transit line to the area.

The idea of redeveloping the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is interesting, but I’m somewhat concerned about the parking requirements associated with a casino complex.

As for the idea of building on the Exhibition Place site, there is certainly a considerable amount of land available, but I’m very concerned that this may drain the tourists and energy out of the entertainment district unless the proposal has a clear agreement to work in collaboration with both areas of the City.

This issue was approved for public consultation at the November 5th Executive Committee meeting. Hearing from you is the most important consideration I have with respect to the potential approval of a casino complex in Toronto.  I want and need to know how you feel about both the idea of building a casino in Toronto and, if approved, where it could be built. Call or email me and let me know your views.

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