THIS CASINO CAN OPEN IN TWO MONTHS
A reminder to two politicians of more than average size: There already is a casino in downtown Toronto.
Mayor Rob Ford should remember the CNE casino because he used to be on the CNE board. I thought the provincial finance minister, Dwight Duncan, was more clued in on Toronto affairs but he obviously needs a reminder.
When both have talked about a Toronto casino, possibly at Ontario Place, there is no mention of the present CNE casino.
The CNE casino operates each August and September before Labour Day and is expected to produce about $3.5 million in net revenues for the Ex this year.
But it could easily produce many millions more starting this Victoria Day if it ran daily until Thanksgiving.
It could operate while municipal and provincial politicians, plus John Tory's advisory committee on the future of Ontario Place, twiddle their toes and their tonsils on the subject.
I do know a bit about this issue because I moved the original motion for a casino at the Ex. chaired the committee in charge when the casino began, and met with provincial officials about it when I was CNE president and vice-chair of the landlord, the Exhibition Place governors.
And I did so knowing that Toronto voters overwhelmingly rejected a city casino in a 1997 referendum. There is also an ancient council motion rejecting a Toronto casino.
However, several important facts must be considered when you assess those rejections. The council vote came without any debate on the subject. And there was no real study or debate before the referendum. It was hardly a major election issue.
The most important fact is that the Not In My Backyard argument has dominated any anti-casino sentiments. The NIMBY forces raise the spectre of the traffic, noise, rowdies and drunks spilling out into residential areas from an evil place. Do you really want a casino on the next street, they ask?
There is no such problem with the casino at the Ex, which is allowed under the provincial regs governing fairs. After all, since 1879, the CNE grounds has hosted countless fairs, shows, and just about everything else from races for planes to stock cars.
Anyone in Parkdale knows that they are moving in near a major festival grounds. Now its residents presently generate a few complaints about the Ex, mainly the noise of the air show, but some of that is due to the fact that a stupid brewery once gave away free cases of beer to anyone who complained about its concerts. No wonder there were complaints!
There are regular meetings between officials at Queen's Park and the Ex brass. I can assure you as a participant in several of those meetings that not only has there been no complaints or problems with the casino, the provincial authorities thought the CNE casino was well run.
They advised, however, that the Ex not be too flamboyant about its promotion because they didn't want to rouse any criticism. The main recommendation was for the Ex to hire many paid-duty Toronto police to act as security and to ensure there were no incidents.
So the CNE casino has been hassle free and it would be easy to expand and provide jobs during a period when there are many young people around due to school vacations.
Of course the province would want to grab more than its share of the increased revenue. A compromise would be to give the province half of the profit for subway construction, one-quarter to Ontario Place to fund its renewal and one-quarter to the CNE which is now independent from its landlord, Exhibition Place, which runs the grounds and buildings for the city.
Why would Queen's Park go for such a deal? Because it has been the main banker for Toronto's subway construction for decades, and it also owns Ontario Place which has lost a fortune since it opened in 1971.
The mayor has never opposed a Toronto casino because of all the jobs and revenue it would provide. Duncan also likes the idea. However Ford wants the site to be at Woodbine as an extension of its track and slots parlour (which just happens to be in the ward he represented as a councillor.)
Nuts to that. The best site is the Ex/Ontario Place. It is well served with roads and transit. It is easy to expand into a larger festival centre, a huge attraction for visitors, by creating additional land in the lake using fill from subway construction. After all, the city has been creating land in the lake for more than a century.
Councillors are now talking about a referendum question about a casino being included on the ballot in the next municipal election in late 2014.
Why not expand the CNE casino right now for four months and do so for the three summers before the election? Then voters would be able to determine better whether they want to scrap the casino, or shorten or lengthen the months of its operation.
I bet the majority would feel that there's no reason to go out of town to gamble when they can do it so easily at the Ex.