Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. appears to be softening its hard-sell pitch for a Toronto lakefront casino.
“There’s been a great deal of interest in the potential for a GTA facility and specifically a great deal of interest in Toronto as one of the options in the GTA . . .,” OLG chief executive Rod Phillips said in an interview.
“There’s a very significant opportunity for the city of Toronto but, at the end of the day, city council will decide if it’s positive from a jobs and tourism perspective and if, from a revenue perspective, it makes sense for the city.”
That’s a marked departure from March when a plan was announced to expand privately built and operated gambling in as many as 29 “gaming zones” to boost annual provincial revenues by $1.3 billion. OLG said then it will build one new casino in the GTA.
Knowing Toronto’s core is the most fertile ground for new profits, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan touted a “golden mile” of high-end shops and entertainment on Toronto’s lakefront while OLG chair Paul Godfrey envisioned an “iconic” casino-resort near the water.
Nevada gambling giants took notice. Facing flat business in Las Vegas and cheek-by-jowl competition in other states, they are working feverishly behind the scenes on groundwork to win a monopoly licence to build a multi-billion-dollar complex as close as possible to Toronto’s tourist infrastructure.
City staff are writing a report on the pros and cons of a casino and specific potential sites that will be part of a council debate expected in October on whether to allow one in the city.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, who argues a downtown casino complex would hurt existing businesses, said Godfrey’s “hard sell” on Toronto has frozen other communities’ plans while they wait and watch the big city.
“The province has pushed it hard and fast, and it looks like that could put their efforts to reform their gambling operation on hold,” he said.
So far, only three municipalities that host no slots or other gaming, but are in one of OLG’s expansion zones, have put out the welcome mat – Peterborough, Belleville and Clarence-Rockland on the Ottawa River.
Seven others currently with slots have expressed “continued support of gaming facility.”
Oakville, on the other hand, has slammed the door shut on gambling even though it’s not in a gaming zone, while the cottage country host of Casino Rama has officially said it doesn’t want a competing casino in the GTA.
Phillips said he is pleased with the interest so far from both municipalities and potential casino builders and operators.
“We’re making good progress. We’re about where we expected to be,” he said. “We’re moving into the process of dealing with potential operators and specific locations.”
Potential builders and operators had a July 4 deadline to submit a “Request for Information” signalling interest. Phillips said he believes OLG will meet the target of launching a formal procurement process this fall and choosing the winning bidders and locations in 2013.