CasiYES Tops CasiNO

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


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

Hedging His Bets

To give the mayor his due: during Monday’s debate on the prospect of building a casino in Toronto, he executed what would not be considered a typical Fordian manoeuvre. Instead of just blustering through, acting impulsively on gut instinct or what he believes some mythical taxpayer wants, Ford introduced a motion calling for further study and fact-finding before asking his colleagues to make a decision about whether to give a thumbs-up to the OLG and allow a casino in Toronto.

What’s that you say? A reasoned debate? A little of the old rational discourse? Well, I do declare.

Of course, the mayor made it clear what he personally thinks about casinos. For him, they are all upside. A hundred million delicious, lilac-smelling dollars would flow into our coffers—a number that, like many of the mayor’s boasts, is of uncertain origins. (Perhaps he simply multiplies 100 by 5 cents and arrives at the amount he needs to back a claim?) It’s never the same number, but it always works in the mayor’s favour. Call it the new math.

While we’d like to think this call for careful deliberation and evidence-based decision-making heralds a new approach from our chief magistrate, that might just be wishful thinking. After all, during this very same executive committee meeting, he led the charge to try and rescind the 5 cent plastic bag fee in order to … what? Eliminate any evidence that David Miller was once mayor? Generate some sort of political issue with it?

Respecting Toronto Taxpayers One Nickel At A Time.

Far more likely: what’s giving the mayor pause on the casino issue isn’t a new-found desire for informed debate, but rather the thorny matter of its location. Jane Holmes, Woodbine Entertainment Group’s vice president of corporate affairs, told the committee that a new casino anywhere else in Toronto would jeopardize Woodbine’s existing business—and by extension, the mayor’s much ballyhooed Woodbine Live complex. For Ford, the decision of where a casino might go clearly comes with much larger implications. How could he be seen championing a waterfront casino to the detriment of a business in his own backyard? Don’t us downtowners already get everything without leaving even so much as crumbs for the suburbs? The optics of that—not only for the mayor but for every pro-casino suburban councillor—are ugly.

It’s unfortunate that’s the direction it seems the casino debate will take: not if, but where. Because there’s a much larger conversation we need to have, one that bubbled up at Monday’s meeting: What is the net benefit of building a casino in Toronto?

Note the word net. Anybody who’s pro-casino can read off the reasons having one would be good by rote. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Added revenue to plug budget holes or build much-needed infrastructure. The zazz of a shiny new edifice dedicated to the pleasure of vice and a palace to watch Howie Mandel perform. Why would anybody be against that?

Besides, if we don’t build a casino, Mississauga will. And if Mississauga builds a casino then, well… Yes. What does happen to Toronto if Mississauga has a casino and we don’t? Do we get economic spin-offs, and do they mitigate massive traffic jams? That’s where the question of net benefits—gains minus the costs in receiving those benefits—enters in. The pros minus the cons. Just because the project comes with some advantages doesn’t mean we end up in positive territory.

It’s too soon to say what realistic revenue projections look like, but they won’t be nearly the amount Ford declared. It’s pretty well established that municipalities in Ontario with casinos get the short end of the stick, the slightest slices of financial pie. And the notion of our mayor marching into the premier’s office and striking a better casino deal for Toronto is delusional even by the hyper-delusional measure of this mayor. He’s missed no opportunity to alienate our current premier, regularly threatening him with electoral pain at the hands of Ford Nation. Not to mention that little bit of debt the province is wrestling with. Yeah, they’ll want to hand over more cash to us.

Oh wait, we can parlay the highly desirable waterfront location the likes of MGM wants in order to secure a better deal for the city. This is the flip side of the Woodbine situation for Ford: he’s got reasons to keep it local, but the city stands to make a lot more if we put the casino near the waterfront. As pointed out by MGM’s representative to reporters, the biggest source of revenue for the city would occur by putting the casino on city-owned landed and raking in lease payments—and it’s a fair bet the waterfront would command a good price. (MGM has gone so far as to say it wouldn’t be interested in building at Woodbine at all.) We’ll pimp ourselves out, sure. But we won’t come cheap; it’s high-class hooking all the way.

Aside from a whiff of desperation, this interest in putting a casino by the waterfront also reveals a fundamental lack of understanding about the nature of downtown Toronto. The last thing it needs is the glitz, glamour, and showy spectacle that some sort of resort-y hotel/casino might deliver. Aside from the gambling, we already have all of that—just see our restaurants, theatres, shopping, hotels, and convention spaces. It might come as a bit of a surprise to some councillors who just come downtown to work or see the Leafs, but it already is a bit of a destination.

What downtown Toronto needs—especially along its waterfront—are more vibrant public spaces. Real, tangible, lived-in ones, not those manufactured by corporate entities catering to some projected desire we have to get away from it all. How much is it worth to us as a city to bargain away a chunk of our prime real estate in return for a whack of service jobs and an uncertain revenue stream that will invariably fall short of expectations?

The only certainty, gained from the experiences elsewhere: a casino is never the economic saviour it’s played up to be for a city of our size, with an economy as diverse as ours. At best, it’s a gap filler, a provider of some of those nice-to-haves the mayor could easily have us do without. Hardly what you would cede choice property over for, on the very likely losing end of what’s shaping up to be a “steal.”

This is unfamiliar territory for Mayor Ford with no easy division to exploit. The big boys in the private sector are calling for a prime waterfront location. If he acquiesces it might mean putting the final nail in a pet project he’s long been claiming as his own, right in his neck of the woods. Either one probably won’t be the windfall he’s proclaimed. In gambling parlance, the mayor needs to throw a hard eight and a staff report may just help him hedge his bets.

repurposedly submitted by Cityslikr

The Power Of The Mayoralty

Don’t think of this as a boast but it seems that we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have reached a level of recognition that’s snagged us a cyber-groupie. No, actually it’s more like a cyber-stalker. A commenter at our site so relentless that even after we deemed it necessary to ban any further commenting (not entirely, we let the occasional one through just to prove how illogical, obtuse and nasty this nameless commenter can be), said commenter still writes in. Talk about your dedicated hater.

But, fair’s fair, and we do have to acknowledge when we’ve been correctly called out even by a cyber-stalker. Earlier this week as Mayor Ford continued to steamroll over city council, having his way this time with the TCHC vote, our biggest fan submitted a link to one of our posts from last August where we essentially said that even if then Councillor Rob Ford was to win the mayor’s race, his anti-collegial attitude would leave him a minority voice at council. Our very own words were even thrown back into our face. “So to you fanboys out there, trumpeting the ascension of Rob Ford and crowing about all the ass he’s going to kick and unions he’s going to bash and cyclists he’s going to run over, if your man gets elected, he’s going to be a mayor of one. All red faced and blustery, he’ll spend his time in office, stomping his feet and bellowing how he can’t get anything done, blaming everyone else but himself when the fact is, while pathological assholes who can’t work with others may be an asset when running an inherited business, it simply doesn’t fly at a non-political party municipal government level.”

Oops. How much more wrong could we have been? Colour us red-faced. Full disclosure here. This was a sentiment we continued to believe right up until and even after Rob Ford won despite those telling us that the power of the office could very well transform even the most cracked of crackpot councillors into a force to be reckoned with. Yep. We were clueless.

How could we have missed the warning signs coming from the likes of Giorgio Mammoliti? Rob Ford’s most withering and aggressive critic while both men were running for mayor and arch-nemesis on city council (except when they ganged up to chase a reporter from the socialist Globe and Mail out of chambers a few years back), upon withdrawing from the mayoral race, Mammoliti packed up any last vestiges of personal principal and threw his weight behind the Ford campaign. Now he basks in the glow as, literally, the mayor’s right hand man at council meetings and his chief apologist and defender.

As goes Councillor Mammoliti, so goes city council?

Mayor Ford’s strong majority might be even more surprising if it was built on a positive base of consensus seeking but I’m guessing that’s not really the case. There are whispers of cowering councillors fearful of reprisals if they don’t bow down and obey the mayor. In today’s Toronto Star story about the mayor’s voting cheat sheets, an anonymous member of the Executive Committee admitted that it wasn’t really an option to vote against the mayor’s wishes. At the TCHC vote on Wednesday night, Councillor Wong-Tam said her purposed amendment to the mayor’s motion received praise from some fellow councillors who winded up voting against it out of fear of the mayor. “I had councillors coming up to me saying they would love to support my motion, that it was fair and well considered, but that they would get in trouble.”

‘Get in trouble’?! What are you, 4 years-old? What kind of trouble?

Sure, the mayor is swinging some heavy duty pipe right now. I mean, he threatened the premier of Ontario, fergodssakes, with retributive political pain at the ballot box if he didn’t hand over some money. Even before he was elected mayor, Ford anointed Vincent Crisanti in his race to unseat fellow Etobicoke councillor Suzan Hall because Hall had the temerity to question Ford’s claim of being the only one to bring home the Woodbine Live development. Councillor Peter Milczyn fought for his political life when Ford propped up Morley “I Thought He Was Dead Already” Kells as an opponent.

Councillor Milczyn now? Awarded a spot on the Executive Committee by way of being Chair of the City’s Planning and Growth Management Committee, he is also Vice-Chair of the TTC. All he has to do in return? Keep quiet at council meetings except to rise in defense of the mayor by citing all the misuses of power by the previous administration and vote exactly how the mayor instructs him to vote.

So one has to wonder about other cowed councillors especially those not fully entrenched or who barely squeaked into office last October. The aforementioned Councillor Crisanti and his 41% of the popular vote. I’m thinking, Councillor Gloria Luby Lindsay at her 300 vote victory. Councillor James Pasternak and his eye-poppingly low 19%!! Or Councillor Gary Crawford and his 25%. The list goes on.

The problem as I see it about this possible rule by threats and intimidation, it doesn’t always stick. There’s no lasting loyalty just fear. Next election is still nearly 4 years off and that’s a lifetime and beyond in political time. What happens when the winds change and the mayor isn’t as popular as he is now? And the winds always change. Those councillors now basking in the mayor’s conditional love may not remain so obedient if fortunes turn and given Mayor Ford’s aggressive, confrontational manner, he will never be as popular as he is right now. Things will get uglier. The mayor will make sure they do. No one comes out of that kind of battle scenario unscathed.

Then again, what the hell do we know? Our ability to see into the future is somewhat suspect as our cyber-stalker gleefully informed us. Perhaps we should attempt some professional pundit, George Constanza-ish prediction where what happens will be the exact opposite of what we say. So, Rob Ford will enjoy 2 terms as Toronto’s mayor, doing everything he wants to do before moving on to provincial politics (with his brother Doug taking his spot as mayor here) where he will eventually become premier for a few years before moving on to eventually be Prime Minister of Canada. Finally he will be crowned King of the World, a title he will hold until he dies at the ripe old age of 107.

Fingers crossed.

prognosticatingly submitted by Cityslikr