Most people wouldn’t sit down at a card table and start playing without knowing things like the rules of the game and the odds of winning. Even in the mind of someone who gets a thrill from high-stakes gambling, knowing the stakes before laying a bet is just common sense.
So I’ve got to ask why Mayor Rob Ford has been so eager to dive into a debate on a Toronto casino even though the city has been provided with virtually no solid information about what that kind of glitzy development would mean for the local economy.
Ford, whose executive committee voted last week to pursue public consultations on the idea, is fond of waving around potential revenue numbers that he believes would come should Toronto enter into an agreement with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to build a casino resort downtown. These days, his estimates are about $200 million per year.
But there’s a problem with those figures. They don’t add up.
Over the summer, city hall commissioned a report on the economic impact of a casino. But the report is long on speculation and light on concrete numbers.
The report notes that the Ontario municipalities who currently host casino resorts derive only $3 million per year in hosting fees, or a fraction of a per cent of Toronto’s total budget. But, the report says, Toronto could get more revenue under changes to revenue sharing agreements that might come under OLG’s planned modernization initiative.
But OLG hasn’t provided concrete details on that initiative. Toronto has received no proposal indicating what kind of revenue the city should expect from OLG for hosting a casino.
Without real numbers, even a consultation process seems premature. I could see possible support for a casino venue if it means hundreds of millions in dedicated city revenue for things like transit and housing. But if all OLG can really promise is the breadcrumbs other casino-hosting municipalities receive, pursuing this is a waste of time.
My suspicion is that the specifics are vague because a casino won’t, ultimately, be a jackpot for the municipal government. The list of cities across the world that have solved their fiscal challenges by embracing gambling revenue is vanishingly short.
In Toronto, the casino focus at city hall seems driven by a desire to raise revenue for infrastructure without looking at new taxes. It’s part of the same quixotic crusade that led Ford to champion subway construction via non-specific private sector revenue last winter.
The problem then is the same as the problem now. This city can’t afford to waste time pursuing vague solutions to our real problems.
Before placing a bet on a Toronto casino, we’ve got to know the odds of winning.