Casino by Rupert Ganzer
Casinos are polarizing. They’re associated with so many contrasting images and connotations. On one hand, you have the glossy ad campaigns that promise endless vacations and luxuries after hitting the jackpot; on the other, you have the hundreds of thousands of problem gamblers in Ontario that lose their savings, their family, their life to the game. You have a source of government revenue that can pay for roads, schools, and hospitals, but you also have related expenditures such as additional policing and treatment for addiction and depression. Now, Torontonians are faced with this impending reality right in our own backyard.
It all started when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) announced plans for a strategic reform in March, after another year of declining revenue. The big focus is on opening a casino in the GTA, a densely-populated area without a casino. The OLG’s current casinos have seen profits drop steadily over the years due to their reliance on border-crossing American gamblers; in these days of a strong Canadian dollar, post-9/11 security, and new casinos opening on the US side of the Falls, less Americans are driving over the bridge to spend their money. The OLG believes a Toronto casino will revitalize their fortunes by retaining GTA gamblers and attracting tourists to the big city to play.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, Mayor Rob Ford, and numerous suburban councilors support this move, while many Toronto councilors oppose it. As for public opinion, it’s split 54% for, 46% against, according to an Ipsos Reid poll. With opinionated advocates on both sides voicing their arguments, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of opening a casino in Toronto.
Casino Night by Rishad Daroowala
Creates a new entertainment hotspot
- If the proposal from gambling giant MGM is any indication, the Toronto casino would be part of a sprawling, family-friendly, all-inclusive complex that would also include a lavish resort and restaurants, shops, theatres, and convention halls.
Boosts the economy
- Building a casino would be a massive development project, one with a budget probably in the billions.
- Money would be invested into the city and province to build the casino.
- As part of a resort or complex, many other businesses would open and operate alongside the casino.
- A casino in Toronto would definitely draw more tourists into the city, especially if it’s part of a greater, one-stop entertainment complex.
- Many jobs would be created with a new casino: service staff, management, maintenance personnel, security, and more. With the expected big scale of the casino and possibly its associated entertainment complex, thousands of positions would need to be filled.
Creates a new source of government revenue
- Maintained and operated by the OLG, earnings from the casino would go into the provincial government’s pockets. Profits are expected to be in the hundreds of millions, if not a few billion, per year. This could greatly help balance the $16 billion provincial deficit.
- The casino would also be a way to generate income for the province without raising taxes.
- Mayor Rob Ford has said that the city’s cut of the casino revenue will be directed towards the TTC, roads, schools, and hospitals.
Slot Machine by Jeff Kubina
Leads to more and worse problem gambling
- Gambling addiction is estimated to currently afflict over 300,000 Ontarians; the number will probably increase if a casino opens in a high-population area such as the GTA.
- The reduced commuting time and cost would enable problem gamblers in Toronto to play more and lose more.
Increases poverty and homelessness
- Going hand in hand with gambling addiction, more low-income individuals (those who are statistically most susceptible to becoming problem gamblers) may find themselves bankrupt and kicked out onto the streets, unable to pay for rent or mortgage, due to the convenience of a casino in the city.
- Crimes associated with drug sale and use, prostitution, loan sharking, and pawn shops might spring up in the area surrounding the casino due to the high-stakes, late-night nature of gambling. This will be especially problematic if the location of the casino leads these crimes to take place in the heart of the city.
Creates a poor source of government revenue
- In terms of making money for Toronto, the new OLG casino will only cut a small percentage of its profits towards the city, while directing the vast majority of earnings to the province.
- For the casino to truly make money, it needs tourists to play, whose money comes from abroad. If most of the gamblers who visit the casino are Torontonians, the money earned is just being redirected from other businesses that also drive the economy (i.e. retail, restaurants, arts and cultural institutions).
- A portion of the revenue will be spent on the police, social, and health services needed to deal with the possible increases in crime and addiction resulting from the new casino.
- A casino in Toronto could actually take revenue away from existing casinos in the province.
- Studies have shown that one-third of casino revenue comes from problem gamblers. Thus, it can be argued that government-operated casinos make money off of the vulnerable.
So, is opening a casino in Toronto a good idea? The mayor’s executive committee will consider the issue as early as May, when Torontonians get the chance to voice their thoughts. From looking at the investment and revenue numbers being thrown around, it seems likely that a casino will be built. It looks to be a quick way to balance out the provinicial deficit, and a question on the public poll also shows that more people would agree to the GTA casino if it is part of a resort and entertainment complex.