Toronto councillors willing to look at Woodbine casino
Woodbine racetrack’s bid for table games, in addition to its 3,000 slots, is generating caution but no furious backlash at Toronto city hall.
March 11, 2015
By David Rider
Woodbine racetrack’s bid for a full casino is being approached with caution at city hall, but not the fury that killed the downtown casino proposal last time around.
Several councillors who successfully fought the 2013 push for a waterfront gambling palace, said Wednesday the Woodbine proposal should get an airing.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (open Denzil Minnan-Wong's policard), a persistent foe of moves to expand gambling, called the 3,000 slot-machine facility now at Woodbine “a very depressing place, where people just feed money and lose their money.”
But the deputy mayor is comfortable with Mayor John Tory (open John Tory's policard)’s willingness to consider the notion of adding gaming tables and entertainment facilities to the track in job-starved Rexdale.
“Woodbine is different, there’s already a racetrack, gambling there, so the impact would be different than smack in the middle of downtown,” said Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East).
If executive committee asks for a city staff report on council revisiting its 24-20 vote in 2013 to ban expanded gambling at Woodbine, he added, “I’m not opposed to receiving that further information.”
The Star revealed Wednesday that Tory’s office and Woodbine are in preliminary discussions about city council considering a change that Woodbine calls “vitally important” to its future and jobs there.
Haunting the track and the roughly 5,000 people who work there is Ontario Lottery Gaming Corp.’s tendering process that will see expanded gambling in the GTA and new competition for Woodbine.
In his first public comments on the issue, the mayor said Ward 1 Councillor Vince Crisanti suggested revisiting the Woodbine vote as a way to create jobs and attract investment to Toronto’s northwest corner.
Tory is willing to discuss a Woodbine casino as part of “a broader kind of entertainment complex - hotel, retail and so on that would create a lot of jobs and attract a lot of investment to a part of the city that sorely needs it.”
If Woodbine provides that information, he said, he will put a request for a staff report on the executive committee agenda that is a precursor to council revisiting the vote.
Councillor James Pasternak (open James Pasternak's policard), an executive committee member who opposes a downtown casino, said of the opportunity to create jobs at the racetrack: “That has to come to the council floor - (I am) a little reluctant to go that route but we have to examine it.”
Maureen Lynett, a co-founder of grassroots group No Casino Toronto, said her group was focused on opposing a downtown casino. Some members actively supported the notion of a full casino at Woodbine.
“We’re waiting to see the proposal but I trust council to do the right thing,” Lynett said. But she is concerned downtown casino proponents could be using Woodbine to breathe life back into the waterfront bid.
“We are hearing rumblings that the casino giants are circling around Toronto again and knocking on the door of our new mayor,” states a No Casino email blast to members and media sent shortly after she spoke to the Star.
“Is Mayor Tory considering a downtown casino too? Let’s find out. Email Mayor Tory right away. Let him know you are opposed to a downtown casino and ask him for a clear position.”