The long awaited Toronto city staff report analyzing the costs and benefits of a casino was publicly released on the same day that Mayor Rob Ford issued a letter of support for the OLG proposal. Staff members describe the report as a tool to “inform council’s decision” prior to the vote scheduled for next week, but the information shouldn’t be considered an official recommendation. The information contained in the report describes public opinion as offside with the pro-casino attitude of Mayor Ford.
City Manager Joe Pennachetti was the architect of the staff report, who also coordinated the public consultation meetings held in January. The objective of the consultation was for the city to collect feedback from members of the community, which in turn would be used to influence the decision by city council.
The feedback however, was less than encouraging for pro-casino council members, including Ford himself. According to Pennachetti’s information, 71 percent of 18,000 public feedback forms opposed the Toronto casino proposal. Pennachetti touched on the potential social impacts a casino will have on the community in the report, which he suggests is the reason for the mounting opposition. The Toronto Public Board of Health voted 9-1 against the casino based on these very issues in November, which resonated with most members of the community.
Pennachetti also drew criticism for suggesting Toronto may still negotiate a casino hosting fee in the neighbourhood of $148 million for the facility. The OLG hinted early in the negotiations that Toronto would receive preferential treatment over other Ontario communities for agreeing to a casino, but that formula was struck down by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne last month. The hosting fee is now expected to be nothing above $100 million, and even that figure is optimistic.
The findings in the report will inevitably affect how councilors vote on the casino proposal. Mayor Ford released his own public letter of support for the casino earlier today to provide a counter to the city staff report, urging councilors to embrace the economic benefits a gaming facility would provide for the city. The casino committee vote is scheduled next week, and depending on the results, the casino proposal could be finished entirely.