More Casino Dreams And Other Long Shot Gambles

March 26, 2015

I am agnostic, in the noncommittal kind of way, about a casino project going in at Woodbine Racetrack. whateverBack last debate on the issue – what? 1, 2, 3 years ago now? – I was fairly adamant in my opposition to a waterfront/downtown casino as something that would bring no value with it. In fact, it might even detract from the new development going on from the Ontario Place site east through the Don and beyond.

With Woodbine? I don’t know. Gambling’s bare bones are already there. I haven’t heard any other ideas for enhancing the area. Reasonable people are making reasonable sounds about a casino helping to bring about jobs to an area hammered hard by lack of opportunities.

So, with the Executive Committee requesting a report on the prospects of a casino at Woodbine expect to hear renewed debate about the quality of those jobs, the positive and negative effects a casino will have on the area, new revenue windfall pouring into city coffers. Pretty much, the same old, same old. Essentially the same cast of characters, saying the same words only about a different location.

“This is not a pot of gold for Toronto,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said during the meeting (in all likelihood a refrain she made at the last casino debate). rollthedice“It’s a sustainability strategy for the province.”

That’s one absolute we can make about a casino in Toronto. The city’s cut of casino money will not build us affordable housing. It will not build SmartTrack. It won’t even make much of a dent into the $86 million operating budget shortfall we’ve borrowed money to pay.

Whatever leverage Toronto had with the province to up the percentage take for hosting a casino somewhere downtown will not be in place for Woodbine. Location, location, location, am I right? We will take what the province offers and, if recent interactions are any indication, somehow the city will wind up owing Queen’s Park money in return for hosting a casino at Woodbine.

At best, I imagine, if a Woodbine casino does comes to pass, we’ll be left debating whether or not the revenue it generates for the city covers the social costs inherent in expanding gambling.

Similarly, such fiscal pros and cons will be front and centre with the TTC Chair Josh Colle’s Executive Committee motion about going the public-private partnership route when it comes to building the Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. “It is our basic responsibility to look at other ways to manage these,” Mayor Tory said, as part of the administration’s scrambling response to the reports earlier this month about cost overruns and delays with the Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. rouletteThe TTC, it has been concluded, is no longer up to the task of managing and overseeing these big capital builds.

Maybe…Maybe…

Another way to look at this particular situation is that maybe the city should shy away from building subways where subways aren’t warranted, building subways for purely political reasons. Let’s stop pursuing bad ideas with similarly bad ideas. Start following best practices and expert advice instead of the ideology of ‘deserve’.

If Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Colle were truly worried about money and excessive costs to the city, the latter would never have supported replacing the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway in the first place and the first thing the former would’ve done after becoming mayor is reopen that debate and reverse the outcome. Colle did and Tory didn’t, so neither really is in any sort of position to caution us about fiscal responsibility or whatever reasons they’re touting for pushing the P3 model to finance subway construction that shouldn’t even be on the table.

So, whatever. Go nuts. Pursue the P3 dream. Everything else about the Scarborough subway is based on a finger-crossed wing and a prayer. nomoneydownWhy not throw P3s onto that particular vanity bonfire.

But please don’t tell us it’s a sure bet. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the P3 model, just like it is on the benefits a casino delivers to municipalities.

The only thing we should know for certain is that politicians championing casinos and P3s are pitching us the lure of easy money and easy answers. We can have whatever it is we want and not pay the full freight. Nothing upfront, interest to be paid eventually, by somebody else.

feeling luckily submitted by Cityslikr


Family Feud

March 15, 2013

Attended a casino information session last night in Liberty Village — @GiveMeLibertyTO, such a great Twitter handle – givemelibertywhich, honestly, wasn’t an information session so much as a citizens’ how-to on resisting a casino development. And frankly, why not? From the outset, this has been a futile exercise in getting the specifics. How much will the city receive in hosting fees? Hundreds of millions of dollars! OK, maybe $168 million? No no, we’re told by OLG. More in the range of $50-$100 million. A degree of magnitudes larger than Windsor receives from its casino.

Months and months into this discussion, we’re still hearing essentially, trust us, we’re in the business of gambling. We’ll treat you right. Listen to OLG’s President and CEO Rod Phillips today on CBC’s Metro Morning. Would you buy a casino from this man and plunk it right down on our waterfront?

I just can’t run down the pros (many still very questionable) and cons (many still unanswered) of this issue again. I canx.

But I was struck by something Michael Cruikshank of York Heritage said at last night’s gathering. That the city’s lack of a plan for the CNE grounds, which could be viewed as little more than a historic parking lot for much of the year, has left it vulnerable to this casino move. hucksterWhy not a casino? It’s not like you’re doing anything else with it.

That’s not a fair assessment. There’s the Allstream Conference Centre. The Ricoh Coliseum and BMO Field are in the vicinity. A new 26 storey hotel is slated to begin construction there sometime soon, which I don’t know how it fits into MGM’s proposed plans at this point.

In fact, I don’t know much about anything that’s going on down on the CNE grounds. Ditto, Ontario Place. What’s up with Ontario Place? I know John Tory headed some planning process for it. Whatever happened to that?

Being an engaged resident takes constant vigilance, I tells you. There’s never enough time in the day to keep informed. You elect people you hope have your best interests at heart, or at least, the city’s best interests. You hope. Fingers crossed.

Is that enough?

And then to hear from members of No Casino Toronto, a certifiable grassroots campaign created to fight the casino plans, talk about heading out into communities like Ward 37 where many of the residents hadn’t heard about the city organized casino town halls and the discussions going on about the issue. keepontopofthingsHuh? How is that possible? Ward 37 is the home to Councillor Michael Thompson, the chair of the Economic Development and Culture Committee. The one committee along with Planning and Growth that has the biggest stake in the debate, some serious skin in the game. How could his residents be unaware of what’s going on?

Fifteen some odd years into this project called amalgamation, we continue to live separate lives it seems. And hey. I’m not pointing fingers here. I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on in Ward 37 Scarborough Centre, along with probably 40 other wards in Toronto. That’s on me. But how can we act as one entity if many of the residents aren’t part of a city defining moment like hosting a casino, something that will contribute substantially — negatively or positively, we still don’t know yet – to our economic and social well being?

Such a continued divide makes us easy prey to easy exploitation by calculating politicians who thrive on regional tribalism. Nobody benefits when they succeed, not even said politicians. Because nothing substantive or constructive ever gets accomplished under that kind of civic conflict.disengaged

We will simply stumble along, unable to give ourselves nice things.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Conservative Values

February 13, 2013

If nothing else comes from our current transit funding debate, if we’re still snarled on our roads and public transit modes, screaming Subways! Subways! Subways! at each other 25 years hence, differentiateat least we will have during this time of discussion differentiated between the reasonable conservatives and that of their all taxes are evil, Ted Nugent, we can’t even figure out how to plow our streets properly paleo-conservative brethren.

For it seems that only the most retrograde, mouth-breathing, Atlas Shrugged hugging, Toronto Sun columnist-commentator type believes that if there is a congestion problem, and they’re not all convinced there is, then there are plenty of ways to pay for alleviating it other than digging deeper into the hardworking taxpayers’ pockets. Hit up the private sector, for example. It can always be counted on to serve the public good. Or how about cutting spending on programs only the shiftless lay-abouts use? Or uncovering the mountains of scandal tinged money spent on pet social engineering projects or to prop up a teetering government.

The X billion dollars spent on X scandal could build X kilometers of subways!

Those right leaning thinkers of a more sound mind and constitution have accepted the fact the region’s congestion is slowly strangling our economic well-being and quality of life. digintoyourpocketThey also accept the fact that much of the money is going to have to come from the public purse. There is no silver bullet, no magic potion that will painlessly deliver transportation infrastructure for free.

This is what’s known as an un-blinkered, non-ideological assessment of the facts.

There is one quirk, however, in this otherwise reasonable conservative mindset, on display by the National Post’s Matt Gurney in his conversation with his NP colleague Chris Selley and NOW magazine’s Jonathan Goldsbie.

“But I think everyone except the mayor has probably realized the city needs to pay for most of this [transit expansion] itself…It’s all well and good to talk about the federal government’s obligation. We’ll have plenty of time to jaw-jaw about that while sitting in traffic or waiting for a subway car that isn’t packed to the gills. But for now, we have to recognize that money isn’t coming from Ottawa.”

This is a variation on a theme Mr. Gurney and other like-minded conservatives have been uttering for a while. Don’t expect money from the senior levels of government. They have a deficit to contend with. They’re broke. ‘emptypockets1Tapped out’, as Mr. Gurney wrote a couple years back.

The business of governing must wait until both Ottawa and Queen’s Park get their respective fiscal houses in order. Nothing is more important than deficit reduction. Sacrifices must be made. If we just cut here, slash there, trim that area between the two, and wrestle the mighty beast into submission, then we can talk about building stuff. Until then, you’re on your own, cities and everybody else in need of something.

It’s all about cutting costs with these guys. Any expenditure, at least any expenditure on the social side of things, is deemed a cost, never an investment that will contribute noticeable returns down the road in the form of increased revenue or reduced costs. It’s all about the short term, baby.

With that kind of prevailing attitude, how did conservatives claim the mantle of sound financial stewardship? They seem to lack a certain understanding of even the most basic of economic theories. Or rather, they’ve transformed more complicated economic ideas into easily regurgitated chants.

In the face of an economic meltdown, fiscal conservatives of all political stripes rushed to embrace austerity. notoausterity1Dubious on paper, it has proven to be wrong-headed in practice as Europe is mired in fiscal gloom, having imposed severe austerity measures on its most profligate member countries. Great Britain is now flirting with a triple-dip recession after their dance with austerity. With no noticeable improvement, the logical response, of course, is to stay the course. This shit’s gotta work sometime, right?

Cut costs. Cut taxes. Damn the revenue. Better living through scarcity.

Besides, there is more than one way to skin a cat, a skinny, deprived, malnourished runt of the litter.

Casinos!

You want revenue that won’t cost a thing?

Casinos!

Because there’s nothing a modern day fiscal conservative loves more than free money. Cash on the table simply to host a casino (actual amount to be negotiated after the fact but, rest assured, a sliver of what’s needed to fund transit expansion). dogandponyshowPlus, think of all the job creation, both building a casino and working in it once done. Good, well paying, union jobs which, normally conservatives aren’t all that comfortable embracing. But you know, when it comes to a casino and all that no cost money filling a city’s coffers, all bets are off.

Now, try running that line of reasoning by fiscal conservatives when it comes to building infrastructure. Think of all the jobs it will create to build and run that subway, dig up and replace aging water and sewage lines. Good, well paying, union jobs.

Blink, blink. Blink, blink.

Does not compute.

The difference being as Tom Broen at The Infrastructure Society pointed out most recently, infrastructure costs are up front, nowsville, while the benefits of such spending are lost in the ethereal dreams of tomorrow. A casino, on the other hand, is money in your pocket today baby, ka-ching, ka-ching! The costs and downsides? None that I can see and if there are any? Somebody else’s problem.spendingthekidsmoney

While fiscal conservatives go apoplectic at the thought of leaving some sort of financial deficit for their children and grandchildren to deal with, they seem to have little problem bequeathing them crumbling highways and antiquated public transit. Infrastructure deficit? You’re just sticking words together to see if they make sense, aren’t you.

There’s a word for that kind of thinking but it’s not conservative. It certainly isn’t enlightened or enterprising either.

Regressive. Selfish and self-serving. Backward and obstructionist. Those sound closer to the truth.

RSPly submitted by Cityslikr


CasiYES Tops CasiNO

January 23, 2013

“I think this is a slam dunk,” says John Wright, senior vice president of Ipsos Reid in a National Post article yesterday.

This?

A casino in Toronto.

“Unless something incredible happens,” Mr. Wright continues, “the debate for the most part is over.”

In other words, according to the Ipsos Reid poll, for 906 people (presumably residents of Toronto) this has happened:

A Toronto casino will create jobs. How many? Thousands and thousands. Maybe even 10,000. Maybe. What kind of jobs? Full and part time. Maybe even union jobs. How much money in revenue will Toronto get for hosting a casino? Millions and millions. Maybe even $400 million a year according to no robust examination whatsoever. Why not $500 million if we simply float a boat in the lake, claims one pro-casino councillor who shall remain nameless although who else could it be? Where will this casino be? Ummm… What’s your answer first? We got preferences but let’s not decide on such an important factor until we know if a casinos coming or not.

I know this is going to come across as just another anti-casino screed. Truth be told, I am neither here nor there on the concept of casinos. They rarely serve as a destination of choice for me. gamblingThat doesn’t mean I don’t think others should have the opportunity to do so if they wish.

The deleterious effects of gambling as a reason for not building a casino in town leaves me equally cold. It is moralistic in tone and opens up the argument that the government should not be in the business of or profit from any activity that is harmful to a segment of society. Prohibition anyone? How’s that war of drugs been working out for us?

As our friend over on Twitter, @lifeonqueen, said, “…it symbolizes the immorality of using casinos as a tax substitute.” Now we’re getting to the meat of the argument. Governments preying on our more self-indulgent (and worse) natures instead of engaging fully with us about the necessity of proper taxation. Delivering the appearance of getting something for nothing.

And, according to the results of this online poll, a solid majority have bought into it.gambling1

From what I can tell, the city is being pressured into a yes-or-not vote with the details to be worked out later. We all know the devil is in the details, yet we’re essentially willing to sign off on a blank document. Who does that except for the extremely desperate? Why are we so desperate?

My two biggest concerns about this situation are money and location.

How much money, directly and indirectly, will end up in the city’s coffers when this is said and done? So far, the numbers have been vague. Vague, vague, vague. At this point, we’re can’t even be sure if it’ll end up costing the city more to have a casino than what we take in. gambling2That’s, what would you call it? A gamble.

Location is almost as important in this equation. To not have the ultimate say in where a casino would be is really not being an equal partner in the decision. Putting an inward looking edifice which a casino is along the waterfront, bringing cars downtown to fill its 10,000 parking spaces is an absolute deal breaker for me. I can’t see where’d there be any amount of money offered up in return for that.

Now, I would seriously consider a casino up at Woodbine. Remember Woodbine Live? Proof during the 2010 mayoral campaign that Rob Ford knew how to work with the private sector. It was supposed to look like this. In fact, it looks like this.

It’s a prime placement for some serious economic development especially for an automobile-oriented enterprise like this casino’s supposed to be. The decision seems a no-brainer to me if we’re going the casino route, if, when all the facts and figures are in, it makes fiscal sense for the city.gambling3

But we’re so far away from that kind of detailed discussion right now. Yes or No should be just a starting point with more than a few opt out escape hatches built in. No, but… Yes, if… That’s the level of discussion we need to have before getting down to the nitty gritty.

Right now, we’re just being asked to cross our fingers and trust a group of people who in no way has earned that trust that everything’s going to work out just fine for everyone concerned. Win-win-win.

You wouldn’t buy a water heater for you house under those stipulations. Why on earth would we consent to building a casino that way?

odds on-ly submitted by Cityslikr


A Bad Deal With Fake Numbers And Pretty Pictures*

November 6, 2012

Look. Personally, I’ve got nothing against casinos. I am not a betting man because, among other reasons, there are more interesting vices to feed. Casinos can be fun to visit from time to time especially if there’s an opportunity to see exotic animals maul their handlers. Hey. If you could guarantee me that I just might see a white tiger take hold of Celine Dion by the head, I’d become a regular patron.

Besides, the genie’s out of the bottle. Whatever you might think of governments living off the avails of gambling, we’re all in, dependant on the revenue it generates. Like we are with alcohol and tobacco products. And like those, there’s going to be negative social fallout but the upsides are too tempting to resist.

New casinos are coming. The provincial government and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation have told us so. It’s just a question of where.

So let’s have a robust debate about the pros and cons of building a casino (or two) in Toronto.

That would mean dealing with actual numbers, estimates and information.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening as we begin the consultation process.

The city’s casino staff report is rife with best case scenario formulations, based on hypothetical deals the city would swing with the province and OLG for heightened cuts of percentages and hosting fees. The bottom line — how much money would the city of Toronto receive hosting a casino — is awfully muddy. $168 million? $18 million? It depends. (See Hamutal Dotan’s The Great Casino Myth yesterday at Torontoist).

Depends. Depends. Depends.

On the type of casino that is built. Stand alone or a resort like complex. Where the casino is built. Etobicoke. Exhibition Place. The Port Lands.

Depends. Depends. Depends.

What the proposed consultation process seems to be is, here’s some possible numbers based on some possible locations and designs, give us a yes or no answer now. If you don’t agree to play along with us, there are 36 other municipalities waiting in the wings to pounce on this once in a lifetime opportunity. That’s hardly a robust debate. It’s deal making with a gun to your head. Why would we play along with that?

As a number of deputants pointed out yesterday at the Executive Committee meeting, this casino push is a scramble by Queen’s Park to contend with their deficit and debt. A downtown Toronto casino makes a whole lot of sense to them. There’s gold in that thar waterfront. For the province.

But for Toronto?

Depends. Depends. Depends.

On a whole lot of factors that will not be decided upon before the residents of Toronto are asked to form and make a decision. There’s no development plan to look at. No economic impact study. Right now, just numbers Ernst and Young accumulated from the OLG, developers and casino operators. None of whom should considered objective sources on this debate.

If we’re going to get a casino, fine. But on this city’s terms. Despite the mayor and his supporters’ claims that Toronto is in desperate financial straits (and thereby weakening our bargaining position), the one thing we should know for certain is that, as it stands now, pro-casino proponents need us more than we need them.

* lifted directly from Councillor Adam Vaughan’s press scrum

unhoodwinkedly submitted by Cityslikr