So Toronto wants a casino. A casino, says the mayor and some councillors, is just the ticket we need to boost the city’s finances and build the vast – underground! – transit network commuters need.
Let’s do some quick math.
First, take all the direct revenue the City of Niagara Falls got from its vast casino complexes in 2010. Then, being optimistic, double that number. After all, Toronto’s a big, metropolitan place, so we should expect bigger, more metropolitan revenues. Now take all that cash and direct it toward subway construction. No messing around with general revenues or administrative overhead here – let’s plow all our sweet new casino money into constructing a world-class transit system.
A world-class transit system that we’ll be expanding at the blistering rate of 17 metres per year.
Because that’s about all the new subway track the city will be able to afford with its share of annual casino revenues. Assuming construction costs for underground transit stay stable at $300 million per kilometre, it would take 500 years to build the Sheppard subway to Scarborough Town Centre off casino revenues alone.
And that’s probably an optimistic estimate: OLG is stingy when it comes to sharing its casino, slots and racetrack revenues, and it’s not clear that Toronto would end up with a better deal than other casino-hosting cities in the province. A 2005 report by CGR (prepared for the casino industry in New York) notes that, in Ontario, “most commercial casinos pay a grant in lieu of property taxes to the local and regional municipalities in which they are located.” In Niagara Falls and Windsor, that grant works out to about $3 million a year.
As a point of comparison: Toronto makes more than that each year selling recyclables. As far as municipal budgeting is concerned, your old pop cans might be more valuable than craps tables and roulette wheels.
Adding up the numbers, a casino debate in Toronto is a waste of everyone’s time. Even if you set aside all the bleeding heart arguments for why casinos are a bad bet – the crime, the addiction, the impact on small businesses – you’re still left with the glaring fact that casinos in Ontario don’t amount to big money for municipalities. It’s the province that walks away with almost all the financial reward.
Sure, in the best case scenario, casinos might help anchor and draw attention to dowdy downtowns in struggling cities, providing a new market for restaurants, hotels and retail spaces. But Toronto isn’t lacking in high-value commercial districts or a healthy tourism industry. We’re developing faster than every other city in North America and Toronto Tourism counts about 10 million visits each year. This city isn’t crying out for the kind of questionable benefits casino development brings. We’re growing just fine without it.
For Toronto, a casino isn’t a game worth playing. The prizes are lame and the odds suck. Time to cut our losses and move on.