The city plans to spend thousands of dollars gathering more information about the potential effects of building a casino in Vaughan, even though there’s a good chance it will end up being built in downtown Toronto.
A majority of council members at yesterday’s committee of the whole meeting voted in favour of carrying out economic and social impact studies of building a proposed $1.5-billion entertainment and casino complex in Vaughan.
It’s not clear, at this point, how much it will cost the city to gather this information.
City staff estimated an economic impact analysis would cost $25,000 to $35,000.
As well, the study will take into consideration the effects of a casino being constructed just outside the city’s boundaries.
Councillors also wanted to know more about the impacts such a complex would have on the development of the city’s new downtown core, dubbed the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, should it be located there.
The committee has asked the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), which is exploring the opening of a new casino complex in the Greater Toronto Area, to provide an assessment of the social impacts of such a facility and its approach to “mitigating any negative impacts”.
Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, who is out of the country, missed the meeting.
Concord/Thornhill North Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco and Regional Councillor Deb Schulte opposed the decision to forge ahead with seeking more information about the impact of a casino on Vaughan.
Ms Yeung Racco said she would only support moving ahead with further studies if OLG agreed to pick up the tab for the economic impact study.
Ms Schulte, meanwhile, felt it was premature to go ahead with the studies until Toronto has made a decision about whether or not it is interested in hosting a casino.
“I totally agree that we need to investigate if we’re going to move forward, but I am really reluctant to spend taxpayers’ money if I truly believe that it’s likely to go in a different direction and we’ll be wasting the money,” Ms Schulte said in an interview. “It wasn’t clear to me that it couldn’t wait. I think within the next couple of months we’re going to have a pretty good sense where Toronto may go.”
The committee’s decision came after a lengthy discussion sparked by presentations from OLG representatives, including chairperson Paul Godfrey and Pollara executive vice-president Robert Hutton, who carried out public consultation on the issue for the city.
Mr. Godfrey said he believes downtown Toronto is the best location for a casino. But, he noted, that the city’s council is divided on the issue.
He said if Toronto council decides it doesn’t want the facility, Vaughan has a good chance of getting it — along with the jobs, the substantial revenues and property taxes it’s expected to generate.
Several councillors expressed their belief that if a casino is built in the Greater Toronto Area, it will likely be south of Steeles Avenue. But the majority of them felt it was important to study the potential impact of such a facility on Vaughan anyway.
Mario Racco, a former Liberal MPP and former city councillor, who has been a vocal opponent of bringing a casino to Vaughan, implored the committee to stop the project in its tracks prior to the vote.
The committee’s decision still has to be ratified by city council, which meets next Tuesday.