Should The Toronto Casino Go To A City-Wide Referendum?

Toronto is preparing to finalize the OLG casino debate as part of a scheduled vote on May 21.  Councilors are divided over the casino proposal, while Toronto residents are equally conflicted over the proposal.  The ongoing controversy is increasing calls to delay the council vote, and instead open the proposal to a city-wide referendum.

The casino was originally scheduled for a vote at this week’s city council meeting, but Mayor Rob Ford pulled the debate from the agenda.  Critics believe the mayor’s actions were meant to stall for time to rebuild support for the proposal, but Ford maintains he wanted to give the casino a full day of debate without other issues on the agenda. 

According to insiders at city hall, there are more councilors firmly entrenched on the opposing side of the debate than there are on the supportive side.  The growing opposition is noticeable in many Toronto neighbourhoods, where signs supporting the grassroots organization ‘No Casino Toronto,’ are displayed on an increasing number of lawns.  The organization insists a casino would add to social problems, including addictions, gang crime, and poverty in contrast to pro-casino supporters, who maintain the economic benefits of a casino, are in the city’s best interests.

The enduring divisiveness is increasing calls for a city-wide referendum on the casino, similar to a referendum in 1997.  The referendum was held three years after a casino opened in Windsor, now known as Caesars Windsor, and put pressure on Toronto to follow suit.  In the end, 72 percent of residents voted against the casino proposal, and the matter was dropped from the legislative agenda.

But things changed since 1997.  Ontario’s economy is in desperate need of revenue, and the OLG modernization strategy pegged a Toronto casino as central to its platform.  The public is even more divided over the new proposal than they were 16 years ago, which makes the idea of a referendum more viable for the best interests of the city. 

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