Don’t hold breath for real debate on casino in Vaughan

Vaughan is ramping up a one-way conversation about bringing a casino to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, our future downtown area.

Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, with help from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), say they will have “an open debate about the issues”.

You can expect an orchestrated sales pitch championing a potential casino and its benefits to the city over the next few weeks. The OLG is mandated by the province to expand gambling across Ontario, not debate the issue.

Are you still on the fence about the idea of a casino in the city?

Google the words “MGM casino debt”, then do a search for “Caesars casino debt” and then, simply, “casino debt”.

Read through some of the headlines and you will start to see an image of an industry in a desperate state.

The cash-strapped casino operators mentioned here would be a potential operator of a casino in Vaughan and both sent representatives to speak at the city’s casino meeting in May.

There is no need to look up “province of Ontario debt”. We are all aware of the state of Ontario’s books.

Combine a government desperate to pull itself out of debt with the world’s largest casino operators who are losing money globally and you have the makings of a questionable partnership, one in which the city seems eager to get involved.

Over the next several weeks as our local politicians try to sell us on a casino, expect the potential harm casinos could cause to individuals to be downplayed. Count on the monetary benefits to be oversold, job creation potential inflated and the impact to our not yet developed downtown not discussed.

We witnessed this campaign already when Toronto flirted with the idea of a casino.

The OLG’s dubious claims were easily refuted by staff, public health officials, scholars, journalists, concerned citizens and grassroots community organizations.

One example is the claim regarding the job creation potential of a casino.

The majority of casino jobs, in fact, are not high-paying, management positions, as the crown corporation repeatedly claims.

Toronto’s own website reports that casino workers in the city earn about $25,000 annually, before taxes.

The more opposition to a casino grows, the longer the list of promises and benefits increases.

This month we are to believe that a convention centre, trade centre, five-star hotel and entertainment and arts centre will be part-and-parcel of a casino in Vaughan.

As one resident said at the May casino meeting, what we really have here are “unicorns and rainbows”.

Will all of this be delivered by a for-profit casino operator, in poor financial health, that also has to share its profits with the province and city? The business case has not been revealed.

What a casino operator will ultimately deliver is what is being called an “integrated entertainment and gaming complex”.

The future casino would be comprised of the gaming floor, retail shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, an entertainment venue and, potentially, a hotel. But don’t count on it being five stars.

Casinos do not make most of its money on the casino floor. Casino operators are quite open about this fact.

The slots and gaming tables lure visitors into the gaming facility. Once there, the casino attempts to keep visitors in the facility with shopping, food, drink and entertainment options.

These are the type of amenities that are already planned for the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.

Once our future downtown starts to take shape over the next five to 10 years, the restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment facilities that will make the new downtown vibrant should start to appear.

Allowing one corporation to build a large complex that concentrates a full range of retail, food, drink and entertainment offerings under one roof is a recipe for a poor downtown. Ask any professional planner.

Casinos don’t generate spin-off economic activity, they suck it away.

This type of facility will cannibalize businesses adjacent to it and undo the planning work that is already underway to create vibrant, pedestrian-oriented streets and open spaces throughout the new downtown.

Ottawa Public Health recently came out strongly against a casino in that city, understanding the dangers of gambling addiction.

Similarly, Toronto public health spoke out against a casino because of its ability to create an increase in problem gambling.

But you can expect the social costs of a casino to be down-played by Vaughan politicians and the OLG.

You won’t get the real facts regarding a casino over the next several weeks.

Instead, you will get the prepackaged sales pitch, full of exaggerated claims, unproven numbers and underrepresented harms the OLG has become known for.

It is a shame our elected officials have decided to follow suit.

Let the “debate” begin.

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