Either Toronto’s jobs problem will be solved if we accept a casino, or the city will go to hell in a hand-basket because of an increase in gambling addiction and crime.
Those seem to be the main thrusts of the arguments as the debate rages for and against Toronto getting a casino.
Neither extreme is entirely true. Apart from the thousands of construction jobs building a casino will create, there will definitely be a good number of jobs created once it is up and running – mostly low wage, $15-$17 per hour jobs, especially in service, hospitality and hotel maintenance. Not always the most desirable but, in a tight job market, sometimes anything is better than nothing. It is less likely to create as many higher wage jobs with $50,000 annual salaries as some lobbyists would have us believe though, since there are only so many blackjack tables that can be placed on a casino floor.
Opponents also point to concern about gambling addiction, but bringing a casino to Toronto should not create more gambling addicts. We already have enough of a gaming industry to which people addicted to gambling are drawn. So, if stopping a casino with the aim of preventing addictive behaviour is really at the heart of this issue, then we would be entering a world of preventative policies that would have policymakers bubble-wrapping this city. Is that something we would want?
Any casino would be a private enterprise that would pay a hosting fee, with Toronto projected to take in between $50 million to $100 million annually, depending on the location and type of casino. Premier Kathleen Wynne has already cleared the air about whether Toronto would receive a greater proportional fee payment than any other jurisdiction granted the casino, saying that will not be the case.
Among the private entities reportedly making presentations to have their casino in Toronto are Caesars, MGM, Onex and Wynn Resorts.
The one major issue we have with any plan to place a casino downtown is traffic. The gridlock is already unbelievable. The lobbyists and the folks at the city who support a downtown casino must build into any proposal a plan to deal with traffic, especially since locations like the Exhibition Grounds, Ontario Place and the Convention Centre have come up as potential sites. With more residential and office buildings downtown, and 100,000 people moving in every year, gridlock has to already be of major concern to Council. Throw a casino into the mix and not address traffic is a recipe for utter chaos.
Any plan for further development, especially one the size of that proposed by MGM, must address traffic congestion and provide a road map showing how they plan to address traffic flow.
With other jurisdictions expressing interest in welcoming a casino, it is not a given for Toronto, even if municipal politicians vote in favour of one. Toronto City Council was expected to vote on the matter in early April after a staff report that had been scheduled for Wednesday this week, but that vote has been postponed since the report is not ready. So the debate will continue to swirl until the vote, now likely to take place in May.
As expected, the vote by Council for or against approval is lined up along political lines with the right leaning members of Council more in favour of approving the casino and the left wing mostly against. Once again it will be the middle moderates who will be the deciding factor.
A casino will not be the answer to solving Toronto’s employment problem, but would add another dimension to the city; it is not social or economic suicide. It would be a welcome addition for jobseekers and certainly would increase the city’s fun factor, pull in out-of-towners and attract great entertainment.