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Woodbine casino debate likely to focus on jobs

Andray Domise says Rexdale needs a boost, but the health board chair says casino jobs would not help the area.
June 24, 2015
By David Rider

A Rexdale community activist has tough words for downtown Toronto councillors fighting establishment of a full casino at Woodbine race track.

“I think that unless they come up with something else to bring jobs here, they should maybe keep their mouths shut,” says Andray Domise, who last fall ran against Councillor Rob Ford in Ward 2 Etobicoke North.

Downtown wards are booming, he noted, while northwest Etobicoke tries to lift itself out of poverty. “I don’t hear any solutions from (council critics),” he said, and Rexdale can’t just shut the door on luring airport travellers and gamblers from outside Toronto.

In a statement, Ford, who is home recovering from cancer surgery, urged councillors to vote for table games at Woodbine.

“Toronto has already been home to one of the world's most profitable and largest casino slots operations for over 15 years,” the statement says. “And there has been zero negative impact on the people of Rexdale or the City of Toronto.”

A city staff report recommends Mayor John Tory’s executive committee, and later full council, give Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. a heavily qualified green light to let casino operators bid on expanding the current 3,000 OLG-operated slot machines.

The report recommends allowing a private operator to add up to 2,000 more slot machines, plus a maximum of 300 live table games with eight player spots each.

City staff say a Woodbine casino could generate up to $14 million more for the city and create hundreds of new jobs.

But a long list of suggested conditions includes requiring the operator who wins OLG’s procurement process for the Woodbine “zone” to develop a plan for an “integrated entertainment complex that can attract net new spending to Toronto and meet City economic and community development objectives.”

Jim Lawson, chief executive of race track operator Woodbine Entertainment Group, said in an interview the site has about 350 acres that can host job-generating uses including restaurants, live music venues and live theatre.

“Gaming expansion is critical for the economics of our core horse racing/breeding business,” said Lawson, predicting other uses could mean a “huge” jump in the roughly 7,500 jobs the site currently supports directly.

“It’s very critical that we have gaming expansion here to not only be supportive of the economics of the overall gaming and entertainment business, but for the catalyst of all the other uses.”

Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), chair of Toronto’s public health board and a casino opponent, said the promises of a job boom are a mirage.

“Niagara Falls and Windsor did not develop in an economically sustainable and family-friendly way after they got casinos,” he said. “Walk around there - the jobs are cash-your-cheque and exotic-dancer type jobs. They are frankly not going to lead to the long-term prosperity of Rexdale.”

Toronto’s medical officer of health has voiced opposition to more gambling in Toronto, Mihevc noted. But if council votes to open that door, the health board will work to “mitigate” a Woodbine casino’s ill effects, he said.