In close vote, city decides not to jump into high-stakes, big-revenue game.
Cambridge city council has rejected the idea of bringing a casino to the city.
In a 5-4 vote on Monday night, councillors decided against holding a public meeting to gather community input on the possibility.
“I don’t sense an appetite in our community for a casino,” Coun. Nicholas Ermeta said. “We don’t need a casino to do well.”
Ermeta said he views Cambridge as a good family community. “I think this kind of takes away from that,” he said.
Councillors Rick Cowsill, Karl Kiefer, Frank Monteiro and Gary Price voted in favour of a public meeting on the issue. Donna Reid, Ben Tucci, Pam Wolf, Ermeta and Mayor Doug Craig voted against pursuing the matter further.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation met behind closed doors with city councillors a week ago, updating them about the agency’s plans to revamp gambling operations across Ontario.
The mandatory first step in becoming a candidate municipality is holding a public meeting. Woolwich Township has already decided to hold a meeting Nov. 20, with a presentation by lottery officials.
Cambridge is part of a new “gaming zone” created in May, said Tony Bitonti, spokesperson for the gaming corporation.
The zone includes the extreme northwest corner of Cambridge, north of Highway 401 around the Toyota car factory. It includes all of the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, parts of Woolwich and Wilmot townships, and a slice of Wellington County north of Guelph wrapping around Elora where the Grand River Raceway slots now operate.
Waterloo city council hasn’t considered the casino question yet, said chief administrative officer Tim Anderson.
“We have had (staff) meetings with OLG officials, for sure. … We have not made any decision.”
In an email, Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr said: “Kitchener council has not considered the issue of casinos being brought forward by OLG nor an OLG gaming site.”
The gaming corporation won’t propose a casino site in a municipality unless council wants it. “We won’t go anywhere we’re not welcome,” Bitonti said.
After formal interest, a municipality’s name would be put on the map as a potential casino site that a private operator would develop into a bid to the gaming agency.
If a casino were to locate anywhere new in the gaming zone, the Elora slots would close, Bitonti said.
Only one casino is allowed in each gaming district.
Gaming zone boundaries don’t abut each other. They’re based on where most customers for a gaming site originate, Bitonti said. The rest of Cambridge, for example, isn’t included in the zone around the Brantford casino, or any other gaming site.
The gaming corporation wants to hear from municipalities in the zone by the end of the year, to get bids from casino operators early next year.
Jim King, Cambridge’s chief administrative officer, said the city would have received as much as $3 million a year in slot machine revenue.
If added to the city budget, that’s the equivalent of a 4.5 per cent cut in the city portion of residential property tax bills.
Since the Grand River slots opened near Elora in 2003, Centre Wellington has received $16.2 million, Bitonti said.
A new gaming site in the Waterloo-Wellington zone would have a maximum of 1,200 slot machines.
There are 240 slots at Elora.
It would be up to the winning bidder to decide how many table games, if any, to operate he said.
Most casino revenue comes from slot machines. Gambling tables earn much less, because they require staff to run the games, Bitonti said.
In comparison, today in Brantford there are 539 slots and 55 gaming tables, he said.
The Windsor Casino has 2,300 slots and 81 tables.
At two sites in Niagara, there are a combined 4,500 slots and 174 gaming tables.