Kingston’s interest in hosting a casino comes with a $25,000 gamble.
Councillors will launch a study to determine the best locations to build a gambling facility.
“I don’t think it’s a bad step to take at this time,” remarked Coun. Kevin George.
The so-called zoning setback study will examine the best practices of other communities that have gambling developments to determine suitable locations. More importantly, it will exclude areas of the city where a casino would not be a good fit, possibly near schools, playgrounds, churches and residential neighbourhoods.
“We need to know whether we can host them or not,” George added.
Council already ruled out placing a casino in the downtown as part of its 7-5 support of the gambling initiative earlier this month. Political attempts to amend the motion to exclude casinos near schools and other areas were defeated at that time in order to wait for expert advice.
Councillors say spending $25,000 on a fact-finding study will create a more in-depth land use policy on which to lay claim to a casino. The up-front investment is risky since no private operator has yet submitted a proposal, though informal talks have been held.
It still remains unclear whether Kingston will be a developer’s first choice to build since the Thousand Islands casino is only a short drive away. Gananoque and Kingston are located in the same gaming zone that was established by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. Only one casino is allowed in each zone.
However, councillors say it’s better to have a detailed casino zoning study done first rather than wait for an offer and then try and change the rules.
Coun. Bryan Paterson voted against hosting a casino but supported the study.
“It is incumbent on us that we be prepared,” he said, adding: “The devil is in the details and it is well worth having the information ahead of time.”
Coun. Dorothy Hector expressed concern that a casino offer could turn into a legal fight at the Ontario Municipal Board. She says development applications are based on municipal planning rules that exist at the time the applications are submitted, and it’s better to establish clear ground rules before any bids arrive. “They have grounds to grieve because we changed the rules.”
Kingston’s Official Plan does not explicitly allow casinos in any part of the city, but land that’s already zoned for ‘entertainment’ uses could make them possible, council has been told.
Growth and sustainability commissioner Cynthia Beach, whose department will oversee the study, says council could either wait and deal with a site specific casino application, or be “pro-active” and have a city-wide policy. Her intent is to make recommendations to council in January on allowable gambling locations outside of the downtown area.
The $25,000 expense for consultants was carried by a 7-4 vote on October 16.
Coun. Jim Neill says council’s “rush to judgement” to support casino talks with the provincial gaming corporation and the private sector is now needlessly costing taxpayers. “Now we’re being tasked to spend $25,000 on a casino that may or may not be coming to Kingston.”
Coun. Rick Downes, another casino opponent, spoke against the study. “This is a very frivolous use of property tax dollars.”