Big casino operators are busy placing their bets on construction of a gambling mega-complex in Toronto, with Las Vegas Sands Corp. just the latest player entering the game. This international giant is officially registering lobbyists on the issue, putting it in competition with other firms equally expert in separating suckers from their money, like MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment.
All this interest surely cheers casino boosters, including Finance Minister Dwight “Golden Mile” Duncan, and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Chair Paul Godfrey. But the influx of Vegas high-rollers — along with their lobbyists — should worry anyone who puts sound city-building ahead of a facile cash-grab.
The province is keen on expanding casino gambling, ideally by having a big private operator build a multi-billion-dollar “integrated resort” on Toronto’s waterfront. Duncan has described this as an opportunity to open a “golden mile” and warned that, if Toronto isn’t interested, other cities in the area will leap to grab it.
Toronto council is expected to receive a report on casinos in October and then decide on whether to enter the gaming sweepstakes. Duncan insists nothing will happen without local approval. But pitting one community against another, in an effort to stampede casino support through a reluctant city council, is just another part of the game.
That’s playing out — on a smaller scale — east of Toronto, where Ajax and Whitby have squared off in an unseemly dispute over casino cash. Ajax holds the high cards, since it already has a gambling centre: Ajax Downs, featuring a racetrack and 800 slot machines.
This operation has pumped more than $33 million into the city’s coffers and Ajax is looking to expand it. But Whitby wants a cut of the action (with some money also going to Pickering.) And if it doesn’t get satisfaction, Whitby is threatening to bid against Ajax and set up its own casino. That would force the Ajax facility to close.
Welcome to the brave new world of casino politics. It isn’t a pretty place, but it’s where Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cash-strapped government is intent on taking us. And for one simple reason: That’s where the money is. Toronto city council should avoid being hustled into playing along.